Friday, May 11, 2007

Script Review For Burn After Reading

If I didn't already know that the script for Burn After Reading was written by the Coen brothers, they would certainly be at the very top of my list of suspects. It's full of the kind of plot twists, character motivations and traits, and unfortunate misunderstandings that we've come to expect from their movies, particularly their black comedies - and Burn After Reading definitely falls within the 'black comedy' category.

The plot revolves around a CD containing the memoir-in-progress of Osbourne Cox, who has recently parted ways on somewhat acrimonious terms with the CIA. This CD somehow ends up in the hands of Linda Litzke and Chad Feldheimer, two colleagues at a local gym, who recognise the potential sensitivity of the content and decide that they might be able to profit from the situation. Chad's subsequent telephone call to Osbourne sets off a totally unnecessary chain of events that, of course, leads to much hilarity, tragedy, and hilarious tragedy. What could have been a fairly pleasant and amiable conversation leading to a swift resolution ends up, through a combination of Chad's bumbling incompetence and Osbourne's cantankerousness (as well as an interjection from Linda, who decides to play hardball) turning into a blazing row.

This is something of a recurring theme - simple (or not so simple) misunderstandings leading to violent (and sometimes fatal) conflict. Almost everything that happens is at least partly caused by misapprehension or confusion of one sort or another. This makes for a great deal of dramatic irony and a very compelling plot, which is rich and full of unexpected twists - without being at all hard-to-follow, even in script form.

The characterisation, as you might expect, is also very strong, and it was particularly entertaining to imagine some of the dialogue being delivered by the actors we so far know to be involved. Well, only John Malkovich has an officially confirmed specific role - that of Osbourne Cox. But Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Frances McDormand have all definitely been cast too. As has been mentioned before, Brad Pitt will certainly be playing the role of Chad - in fact, the part has obviously been written with him in mind. Chad isn't a moron, but he is pretty suggestible and comes across as a bit of a stoner, even though he doesn't take drugs at any point - he's more into smoothies. Here's a very short excerpt from the script for all you Brad-fans:

Chad Feldheimer is walking up towards the landing dressed in a black lycra bicycle unitard with lime green flames.

Clooney will undoubtedly be playing Harry Pfarrer - a very major character, despite the fact that this is the first time I've mentioned him. Harry is a charming philanderer, whose lust for the ladies sees him tightly embroiled in the unfolding events. For some reason, it seems to be common knowledge that Clooney's character is an assassin - but he isn't. He does carry a gun, but that's because he's a federal marshall for the Treasury Department. And, as he himself points out:

Harry: The gun is actually no big deal. Twenty years in the marshall's service and I've never discharged my weapon.

McDormand will probably play Katie Cox, Osbourne's unfaithful wife, who somewhat inadvertently sets off the whole chain of events in the first place.

There's also a part which seems tailor-made for William H. Macy; that of Ted Treffon, the soulful manager of the gym where Linda and Chad work. By the way, that's not me describing him as 'soulful' - for some reason he is referred to as such several times throughout the script. I guess he is a contemplative, conscientious character and he wants to do the right thing, but is unfortunately driven by unrequited love.

Overall, the script is a fantastic read and will no doubt result in a hugely enjoyable movie which should have wide appeal. I can see a lot of people describing Burn After Reading as 'a return to form' for the Coens - however unfair that may be.

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