Burn After Reading

Year: 2008
Production Co: Relativity Media/Working Title
Director: Ethan Coen/Joel Coen
Producer: Ethan Coen/Joel Coen/Tim Bevan
Writer: Ethan Coen/Joel Coen
Cast: John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, J K Simmons, David Rasche
It's official; the Coen brothers can't do comedy. After the stupid slapstick of Intolerable Cruelty that belonged in a Flying High sequel and the plain unfunny antics of The Ladykillers, they cut a swathe through all comers with No Country For Old Men, a dramatic thriller with little if any humour.

Once again they find themselves stumbling through laughter that wants to be bigger and louder as it is in a Shakespearian comedy of errors.

When bitter demoted CIA analyst Osbourne (Malkovich) pens his searing tell-all memoirs, he loses the CD at his local gym. Idiotic fitness trainer Chad (Pitt) finds it and conspires with prim co-worker Linda (McDormand) to blackmail Cox for the disk back so Linda can afford the plastic surgery she wants.

Linda's also embarking on an affair with doltish and paranoid US marshal Harry (Clooney), a serial monogamist who's also having an affair with Osbourne's icy wife Katie (Swinton).

It's mildly funny, the premise rather than any individual jokes or lines being the main comic point. The funniest sequence is where CIA operative David Rasche tries to explain to director J K Simmons what's going on, neither of them with any real idea until Simmons delivers the line that serves as the film's mission statement – 'report back to me when it makes sense'. The in joke appears to be that the CIA are as clueless as a pair of stupid fitness trainers, a tetchy and profane ex analyst and a philandering ex fed.

There's at least one act of shocking violence befitting the Coens but it's only a three star effort – they're much more comfortable (or at least successful) in No Country For Old Men territory.

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