Intelligence is relative
Running Time: 96 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
Last year, the Coen brothers won all the awards they could find with the brilliant No Country for Old Men, so what better way to follow it up than a comedy? It is, of course, dark comedy, but its comedy nonetheless, and its about as far on the other side of the spectrum from No Country as they could get while still maintaining everything that is uniquely Coen: twists, unexpected carnage, and a cast that elevates a really good movie into being a really great movie.
Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) has been fired from his job in the CIA. This doesnt sit well with Osbournes icy wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), who is also preoccupied with her own adulterous affair with State Department guy Harry Pfarrar (George Clooney). But Osbournes not just twiddling his unemployed thumbs, and soon he has put together his memoirs, tales of his CIA adventures. When the disc containing said memoirs is lost at the gym and recovered by two gym employees (Frances McDormand and Brad Pit), all hell breaks looseand that hell involves the Russian embassy, a thwarted blackmail scheme, and a surprising invention by Harry.
Having seen No Country for Old Men for the first time only a day before viewing Burn After Reading, I was in a Coen state of mind. That movie was a beauty, and this ones not. But thats not an insultthis is just a totally different kind of story, which is what makes the Coens the most original filmmakers getting movies made today. This is their new Big Lebowskione of those movies that just gets better with repeated viewings. You never know whats going to happen.
What makes these films so darn good, though, is the casting. Back for his third Coen flick, Clooney handles the paranoid womanizer Harry just right, not sending him over the top but bringing in just enough shocked melodrama face. Pitt is hilarious, Malkovich is Malkovich, and Swinton is just absolutely detestable. Its McDormand, though, whose Linda Litzke is funny and sad and realand the catalyst for just about everything that happensor doesnt happenwho steals the show. Looking for love and plastic surgery in all the wrong places, Linda is the movies heartand it does have oneand just like those episodes of The Simpsons where you get to the end and go, How the heck did we get from a trip to the museum to here, shes the tie that binds it all together. In one of the most telling lines from the movie, J.K. Simmonss CIA high up guy tells his fellow agent, Report back to me when it makes sense. At no point in this movie does everyone know whats going on, but when you look back at it later, it just doesnt matter, because youll watch it again anyway.
It's Got: Everything in the right places, and Harrys secret invention to boot.
It Needs: To be seen over and over.
DVD Extras Three Featurettes: "Finding the Burn," "DC Insiders Run Amuck," and "Welcome Back George". DVD Extras Rating: 5/10
Alternatives:O Brother, The Big Lebowski, Where Art Thou
The Coens have delivered a superb follow up to their masterful No Country for Old Men by not even trying to do something similar.