I have a confession. I've had a Brad bias.
While Brad Pitt has never been one of my favorite actors, the whole Brangelina thing really rubbed me the wrong way and, well, I've had a hard time with Brad Pitt ever since.
I know. I know. I'm a film critic. I should be above such things.
I'm human, too. Ya' know?
So, it comes as a rather major shock to my system that Pitt is the highlight of "Burn After Reading," the first cinematic offering from the Coen Brothers after the Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men."
Rest assured, "Burn After Reading" is NOTHING like "No Country for Old Men."
Of course, the Coen Brothers have always defied the rules so it would have been unreasonable to expect them to pull an Eastwood by following an Oscar-winning film with something even remotely similar. The Coen Brothers have always exhibited nothing less than artistic integrity, and "Burn After Reading" fairly well proves it.
This is not to say that "Burn After Reading" won't find itself a critical darling and recipient come awards season, though it is more similar in tone to "Fargo" than it is "No Country for Old Men."
As I recall, "Fargo" won its fair share of awards, too.
In "Burn After Reading," there may be an actual plot. Maybe.
Actually, I'm not sure.
"Burn After Reading" is much more about the characters than the actual story, and the characters are quite the delight.
Brad Pitt goes completely against stereotype and pulls off his finest performance in years, even better than "The Assassination of Jesse James." Here, he's a fuzzy, off-kilter fitness instructor named Chad who finds a computer disk at the gym where he works with fellow instructor Linda, a spot-on perfect and quite touching Frances McDormand. Linda is dating Harry (George Clooney), whose just as lonely as she is, even though he's having an affair with Katie (Tilda Swinton), the wife of the aforementioned computer disk's actual owner, recently terminated CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich).
Are you confused yet?
The joy of a Coen Brothers film is that it IS confusing, yet somehow always remains coherent. It's as if the Coen Brothers have, at least in their own minds, sat down and worked through every detail so that the utter chaos somehow makes sense.
The other joy of a Coen Brothers film is that, quite literally, it is always perfectly cast. "Burn After Reading" is no exception. While Pitt and McDormand are the stand-outs, Clooney gives a surprisingly vulnerable performance and Malkovich excels as the rather gruff, alcoholic CIA agent. Swinton, David Rasche and J.K. Simmons round out a fine supporting cast.
I'd be hard-pressed to consider "Burn After Reading" anywhere near the quality of "No Country for Old Men" but, then again, the Coen Brothers weren't trying to match that film. Clearly. "Burn After Reading" is clearly a stand-alone film not even remotely designed for another round of "Let's win the awards again."
There are very few filmmakers where I can say "They've never made a bad film."
The Coen Brothers, however, have consistently been at the top of their game in creating low and modestly budgeted films that are stellar in virtually every way.
So, there you have it.
Flip a coin.
Which one will it be?
Heads. You watch "No Country for Old Men."
Tails. You watch "Burn After Reading."
Either way, you win.