Baffled After Seeing

Joel and Ethan Coen's follow-up to No Country for Old Men is a flaky spy comedy--or is it?

Clooney, McDormand, Pitt and Malkovich, clockwise from top left, are players in an inept intrigue of their own making.

If there's a knock on Joel and Ethan Coen, the writer-director brothers who otherwise have enjoyed a quarter-century of critical acclaim, it's that they betray a condescension, almost a contempt, for the people they've created. From the lover-killers in the Coens' first feature, Blood Simple, to the babynappers in Raising Arizona and a raft of Minnesotans in Fargo, all manner of desperately striving oafs populate the Coen gallery of film art. The brothers have been very smart about their characters' being very stupid.

That changed last year with No Country for Old Men, their faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel...

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