Well, the Coen Brothers are back. Burn After Reading returns to the sardonic and sophisticated dark comedy I missed in last year’s No Country for Old Men. I’d say it ranks close to my personal Coen favorites, The Big Lebowski and Fargo.
In fact, it borrows quite a bit from Fargo, generally in a couple of graphic deaths, and specifically in a scene involving a hatchet. The plot borrows from Lebowski, with its use of a highly dubious MacGuffin — some CIA files — to send a cast of highly self-absorbed characters careening into each other in unexpected ways. You’ve seen the TV ads, so I don’t need to mention how good the cast is. Personally, I think Brad Pitt’s role as a bumbling gym trainer is drawn a bit too broadly, but I won’t quibble. You’ve got to hand it to him for taking that sort of a role. John Malkovich has a character he was born to play. The writing elsewhere is absolutely precise, and absolutely funny.
Dave Bob says four stars, even as he acknowledges that the movie’s black wit and occasional violence might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s the Coen Brothers, after all. As Walter so aptly observed in The Big Lebowski: “These men are nihilists.”