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Burn After Reading (DQ)


Stars: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Marvel

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen

You can tell this Coen Brothers film is meant to be a comedy from the way everyone is over-acting - in strenuous, wide-eyed fashion. Alcoholic CIA analyst Osborne Cox (Malkovich at his hammiest), whose glacial wife (Swinton) is having an affair with federal marshal Harry Pfarrer (Clooney in a career-worst performance), is enraged when his heavy drinking and general unbearability gets him fired.

Somehow Osborne's disc of tell-all memoirs falls into the hands of gym worker Linda (McDormand), who sees the chance of getting the money to fund four lots of cosmetic surgery, and enlists dipstick co-worker Chad (Pitt, channelling his starring debut in Johnny Suede) in trying to extort money from the Russian embassy for the CD. That seems dangerous, but fortunately the Russian diplomats are more bored than anything else.

Coincidentally, Linda is about to embark on an affair with the womanising Harry, while his own neglected wife (Marvel) has a lover of her own in nearby Boston.

We're not supposed to care about the fates of these daft people, but it would help (a bit) if we did. The Coens' record in comedy is nowhere near as distinguished as their achievements in quirky drama, but this is the pit(t)s - a bewildering criss-cross of events which the directors can offer us no reason to follow.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour by deluxe.
96 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 13 Oct 2008