Rating: 3 stars
You could say that Burn After Reading is a spy caper where everything is at it seems to be. You keep waiting for the big reveal, the moment when you find out that at least one of the bumbling, low IQ schemers is not all they appear to be.
Brad Pitt—in a hilariously goofy turn—really is just a Jamba-juice feuled meathead who stumbles across a disk at the gym where he works and becomes convinced it’s a top secret CIA document.
His co-worker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) really is just an aging gym rat, serial online dater, and self-help-book-activated optimist who will do anything to get plastic surgery she’s convinced she needs.
John Malkovich, brilliantly cast as a grumpy and supercilious former CIA agent, really is just an alcoholic loser who clings to his glory days at Princeton University.
As for Harry (George Clooney)—jogger, ladies man, and paranoid ex-Secret Service agent—well don’t even ask what he’s making in the basement.
The joke of the movie is that all of these supremely unqualified people, with their delusions of grandeur, actually manage to cause a fair amount of mischief. It’s a funny concept, and a funny movie. (J.K. Simmons almost steals the show as a CIA bigwig who is stunned by the inanity of it all.)
As for the Coen brothers? No, this film doesn’t have the depth and mournfulness of No Country For Old Men. And it’s defiantly misanthropic, a quality some thought the brothers had outgrown. But hey, sometimes a little misanthropy is just what you need to brighten your day.