Coens leave audiences laughing and puzzled

By the time you walk out of the latest film from the Coen Brothers, Burn After Reading, you will find that nothing was truly accomplished-unless you count total confusion amongst the key characters. Either way what you have here is a solid piece of comedy from a duo who knows how to execute sardonic humor like few others.

The cast is an odd bunch of formidable actors who play their intertwining parts incredibly well, especially Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich. Malkovich plays disgruntled ex-CIA analyst Osborne Cox, who quits his job after being demoted for, most notably, a drinking problem.

Having to go home to ice-cold Katie (an incredibly red-haired Tilda Swinton), he begins to write his memoir. Katie has her own agenda: take as much money from Osborne as she can and run off with twitchy Harry (George Clooney).

But after she burns Osborne’s personal files, the disk falls into the hands of Chad and Linda (Pitt and McDormand), two gym employees who use the opportunity to try to get money.

McDormand’s performance shines through her quickness in delivery and a peppy look that strives on surgically improving herself. Pitt is a different sort of beast. He’s had his time in comedies (Ocean’s 11, for example), but he has never played more of an idiot than here, and the seriousness with which he takes it is great. The dance moves, the facial expressions and the hair; all of it makes for a perfect moron who is in way over his head.

Malkovich’s Cox is the butt-end of so much you almost feel sorry for laughing at him but go along with it anyway. He easily goes back and forth between being calm and relaxed to screaming and maniacal. When he finally goes over the edge you can get a sickening laugh out of it, which is what makes the movie as good as it is.

Of course it isn’t all fun and games. Coen Brothers movies tend to have their dry spots but are typically intentionally dry for the humor of it. Here, though, there are slow spots that show the film just going through the motions to get onto the next scene. There isn’t anything that slows the film down dramatically, but they are noticeable.

This also won’t be getting anywhere near the same kind of attention at the Oscars as last year’s No Country for Old Men. And while the performances were good, there isn’t quite enough there to warrant a nomination. Then again, you never know. To say the least, any Coen Brothers fan will be pleased.