With their new screwball comedy Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers invent another way to explore the notion of ignorance and consequence.
A poor sap sees an easy route to life fulfilment and leaps in without any inkling of the repercussions. They've played this premise for laughs with Raising Arizona, centring on barren newlyweds, a kidnapped quintuplet and an apocalyptic bounty hunter. They've ramped up the tragedy with No Country for Old Men, with their cautionary tale of a sticky-fingered everyman, a cash-filled suitcase and er, another apocalyptic bounty hunter. And they've landed somewhere between the two extremes with
This time around, the poor saps in question are gym workers Chad Feldheimer and Linda Litzke (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) and the McGuffin of choice is a computer disc thought to contain top secret CIA files. Unlucky-in-love Linda is desperate to fund an extreme makeover to improve her chances with the gents, and
Suffice it to say, as blackmailers,
As we've come to expect, a Coen plot is just a meandering means to an end, populated by loveable lugs, cold-hearted SOBs and a wide-variety of oddballs. And so it is with Burn after Reading.
Which makes Burn after Reading sound a whole lot funnier than it actually is. This is not one of the brothers' best, it must be said, for though it has some funny moments, it never quite amounts to anything more than the sum of its parts.
A high-pedigree cast resorts to the kind of mugging best left to a Christmas panto, and Pitt is all wide eyes and goofy grins beneath a shock of frosted hair. His profession makes him an entirely different kind of Joe Six-pack but one whose ignorance of the high stakes world of D.C. rivals only that of you-know-who.
Mind you, those in the intelligence community are no wiser than
Sure, it's a wacky lark but much like Clooney's federal marshall who proclaims never to have discharged his weapon, this one's a rare misfire from the golden Coens.