Not only are the Coen brothers masters of modern dark comedy: They are masters of film period, having proved themselves across a wide range of genres, from “No Country for Old Men” to “The Big Lebowski.” Their newest creation, which they wrote and directed, is “Burn After Reading,” starring a number of returning Coen players like George Clooney and Frances McDormand, as well as fine additions to their universe with John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt.
To say the least, this movie is nothing short of ridiculous, in the best way possible. It’s smart, cool, sophisticated and, above all else, like nothing you’ve seen before. The characters are all demented in their own ways: One is a crazy, alcoholic ex-CIA agent, one is a plastic surgery-craving gym employee who dates men off the Internet and another is a cheating husband who spends hours in his basement creating a rather special “gift” for his wife. All of these people’s lives become entangled, through their affairs with each other, their schemes to get rich and, most importantly, their connections to an ultimately harmless CD-ROM.
Osborne Cox, played by Malkovich, has just quit his job with the CIA after being humiliatingly demoted. He is married to Katie, played to icy perfection by Swinton, who is having an affair with Harry, played by Clooney, who is sleeping with Linda, played by McDormand, who works at the gym with Chad played by Pitt. When Linda and Chad find a disc in the gym locker room containing Cox’s personal memoir, chaos ensues, as the bumbling duo attempts to blackmail Cox, mistakenly believing that the disc they’ve found contains covert CIA intelligence.
Everyone in the cast is pitch-perfect, but the two that stand out most are Malkovich and Pitt, who turn in the best performances of their more recent careers. The effortless style and line delivery of Malkovich as the pompous Cox makes the audience really want to hate him and at the same time feel sorry for him. Meanwhile, it’s refreshing to see Pitt cutting loose in the ultimate anti-Brad Pitt role as Chad, dressed in tight bike shorts with goofily bleached hair dancing geekily with his ever-present iPod headphones in. With the help of the Coens’ direction, they’re sure to be two Oscar contenders for Best Supporting Actor this year.
It is apparent that the Coen brothers are experts in the field. Following the Academy Award-winning “Fargo” and the more recent “No Country for Old Men,” Joel and Ethan always bring their films to a whole different level than most of the other films out in the theaters today. They are so original in everything they do that the audience may not always love what it sees, but it will definitely never forget what it has seen. “Burn After Reading” is nothing short of unconventional, maybe a little bit controversial, but above all, entertaining.