The Coen brothers follow up their Oscar winning film, No Country for Old Men, with a dark, oddball, comedy that some will call a smart move and others a waste of talent. And if any film had an onslaught of talent, it is this one. Unfortunately, more times than not, that spells disaster. I wanted this film to be exceptional. I wanted something that would have the lineage and staying power of a Fargo, Raising Arizona or The Big Labowski. The problem I had is that Burn After Reading is random, thin plotted writing that works only because of the expert acting of the cast.

The story is simple enough. Two average citizens (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) find what the think are important government spy files. When they try to blackmail the owner of the files (John Malkovich) it sets off a chain of mistaken identity and hilarious misunderstandings. And there you have it. That is pretty much it. There really are no good guys or bad guys. They all have their faults. So you don’t get to choose sides but instead just hang on for the ride. I kept hoping for at least some depth of plot and the lack of left me slightly disappointed.

Many people will love this movie just because it is The Coen Brothers and there is the need to feel like you have to rave about it or you are out of touch and unhip. I will let you off the hook now and allow you to see this with an open mind and decide for yourself. But feel free to hate it. It is ok if you do. Granted it is not terrible film and I found myself laughing loudly at times. As I mentioned, the acting alone is worth the price of admission and here is why that makes this film more appealing than it would be normally.

George Clooney. What would a Coen comedy be without Clooney? This time around he plays a sex crazed ladies man with comparison to his roles in Intolerable Cruelty and Oh Brother. He shows again why there is more to him than just looking good in a suit. John Malkovich. His ability to exude anger and fury makes for volatile intensity. Malkovich has always been one of the best character actors and goes full tilt in this one. Tilda Swinton. No one has the neurotic nature of Tilda. She can breathe ice crystals when need be and has a killing stare that is matched by no other. Throw her in a triangle with Johns brooding and Clooney’s charm and she shines as always.

Then there is Brad Pitt. If you have seen any of the previews you know that this is one of the most peculiar roles Pitt has ever done. He plays a gym trainer who is amped about everything. A good natured guy with very little brains. I wish I could say that he was hilarious but most of the time I felt I was watching Brad try to be funny. Instead of developing his character, he was always Brad Pitt. While everyone else was acting, Pitt was just being Pitt being a goofball. And I didn’t meld for me. Sorry little buddy.

Burn After Reading is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence. It is a dark comedy at times and though you laugh a lot, it isn’t feel good by any means. Bottom line, I think this movie will appeal to fans of the Coen’s and those who will suffer through drivel and plot holes in order to witness amazingly talented actors. If you only care about story and content, you might as well burn this now instead of later. It is a little over 90 minutes and I have to wonder if it would have been better given a few more minutes of depth. I only give it 3 out of 5 gliding chairs and that is solely for the performance of the cast. Nothing more.

“Matt is a member of the North Texas Film Critics Association (NTFCA) and hosts a daily online talk show. For additional reviews, interview clips and great DVD giveaways, visit the website”

Review copyright 2008 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.

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