Sunday, Sep. 07, 2008

Burn After Reading

What do you do for an encore when your last film won Academy Awards for Best Director, Picture and Supporting Actor? Whatever you damn well please, if you're Joel and Ethan Coen. After their straightforward adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, the brothers' Burn After Reading finds them back on familiar, strange terrain, where people talk smart and act stupid and a moviegoer doesn't know whether to laugh or ... not laugh.

In the suburbs of Washington — the city of spies — lust, greed and chance trip up a cashiered CIA analyst (John Malkovich), his doctor wife (Tilda Swinton), a federal marshal (George Clooney), a lovelorn gym employee (Frances McDormand) and her oafish accomplice (Brad Pitt, in the sharpest, sweetest comic role of his career). Fargo-like in its fascination with bumbling malefactors, the film will keep you guessing: not just what happens next, but what game the Coens are playing.