Review: 'Burn After Reading'

This comedy thriller, the latest film from the Coen Brothers, offers up their signature heartlessness and hilarity.

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The Coen Brothers' peculiar brand of dry slapstick and cynicism is on full display in "Burn After Reading," their much-anticipated follow-up to "No Country for Old Men" and starring, among others, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Tilda Swinton, and John Malkovich. That previous film, their finest, was also their most furiously human. For once in their career, they appeared to be making a movie about people whose lives really mattered to them. With "Burn After Reading," a comedy thriller set in part in the high-stakes world of Washington secret intelligence, they are back in familiar Coen Brothers territory, which is to say it's both heartless and hilarious. Their movies may be an acquired taste for some but, overall, it's a taste worth acquiring. "Burn After Reading" is a piffle, but it's a savagely amusing one. Malkovich plays Osbourne Cox, an ousted CIA analyst whose wife (Swinton) is having an affair with a married federal marshal (Clooney). When a disk containing Osbourne's tell-all memoirs falls into the inept hands of two petty quasi-blackmailers (McDormand and Pitt, both hilarious) who work at the local Hardbodies Fitness Center, a chain of events ensues that ensures that just about everybody ends up burned, or worse. This is the loopiest star vehicle in ages. Grade: A- (Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, and violence.)

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