IN the Coen brothers’ universe, when a character is given a chance to act foolishly, they will seize on it with great relish. Foolish act compounds foolish act and before you know it, nearly everyone on the screen is entangled in a huge mess that far outweighs the misunderstanding. After the more serious ( and bloodier) No Country For Old Men, Joel and Ethan in Burn After Reading return to the sort of ridiculous romp that’s more in the vein of Raising Arizona . Disgruntled alcoholic ex-CIA man Ozzie Cox, played by John Malkovich, loses a CD containing his memoirs, which is picked up by two dim-bulb, narcissistic gym employees ( Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) who are convinced it contains top secret documents and, befitting this reality show to instant fame society in which we live, view it as their ticket to achieve their dreams. Throw in Tilda Swinton as Ozzie’s disdainful wife and George Clooney as a sex-addict FBI man and the web they all weave makes for terrific farce. The intricacies of the film are constructed superbly, so much so that at the beginning, when the foundations are being laid and it’s slightly plodding, it’s easy to wonder if the movie has been a tad over-hyped. As well it may have been: the film feels well done rather than brilliant and there are flaws, such as Pitt’s performance which seems over the top even in a movie that thrives on exaggeration. Still, once the players have been established and each character’s stakes are clear, it is good fun to get swept away with the madness in such good company as these actors.
Kerrie Murphy EXTRAS: Making of; featurettes ( MA15+) Universal ( 105 minutes) $ 39.95