Brad Pitt plays a sympathetic but deeply unlucky idiot in “Burn After Reading”. A character he embodies wonderfully and for which he wears a totally improbable look, which was not easy to develop for costume designer Mary Zophres.
Burn After Reading : the subtle and delicate art of espionage
After the darkness, the violence and the melancholy of No Country for Old Menthe Coen brothers returned to a lighter register in 2008 with Burn After Reading. With this comedy, the filmmakers do not completely set aside cruelty and brutality but unlike their previous film which won four Oscars, they make them jubilant for the spectators. The public attends here a ball of idiots who like to slum and pretend to be spies.
First there is Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), a coach in a gym in Washington who gets his hands on “secret CIA files” found in a locker room. These files are actually the memoirs of Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), a former intelligence agency employee who has just been fired and spends his days drinking, which drives his partner Katie (Tilda Swinton) to despair. The latter can no longer stand it and plans to start a new life with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a federal marshal who loves to show off his service weapon during his extramarital affairs. An attitude that does not fail to impress Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), Chad’s colleague who manages to convince him to blackmail Osborne with his confidential documents, thus hoping to be able to afford liposuction. Necessarily, when all these morons end up crossing, “it’s a mess”.
Richard Jenkins and JK Simmons complete the distribution of this feature film for which the Coen brothers ask their actors to “wake up the stupidity that lies dormant in them”. An exercise that Brad Pitt succeeds wonderfully. The actor offers a masterful composition in the skin of this sympathetic and ultra-enthusiastic athlete but unlucky and bad at negotiating, which ends up playing tricks on him.
A fabulous quickdraw
The empty stare that lights up, the squinted eyes and the mysterious elocution in an attempt to intimidate the seasoned and disillusioned former spy played by John Malkovich… Brad Pitt connects the faces and mimics of anthology in Burn After Reading. Added to this are tight-fitting outfits that he never takes off, except when he decides to put on a suit to give himself a more serious look. In the press kit of the film quoted by Allocinatedcostume designer Mary Zophres explains that this costume was not easy to find:
Even a cheap suit looks good on Brad. So we had to make him a specially badly cut suit, which fits badly, with a “special frame cut”, that is to say a suit cut for a corpulent man. We added a very ugly wool tie that we also created especially.
An unforgettable hairstyle
But the ultimate distinctive sign of Chad obviously remains his haircut and his blond locks, which immediately prevent him from having the slightest credibility. The Coen brothers came up with the idea for this hairstyle after watching an ad with Brad Pitt. It may be an ad for Pringles or Levi’s, to discover at the bottom of the article. Interviewed by the magazine Uncut in 2008, Ethan Coen said on this subject:
He had done a commercial with a hairstyle like that. (…) And we thought, Brad and us, that it was a good look. It happened a bit by chance, and this cut worked with her outfit.
Joel Coen adds:
We like to give our actors haircuts that they need to cover up when they’re not on set.
During production, set photos are published and Brad Pitt’s cut is actually commented on in the media. For Mary Zophres, “this hairstyle does a lot for her character”. As for the actor, he claims to have taken great pleasure to play an idiot who “makes the wrong choices”, and it shows perfectly on screen.