There is one mis-perception that this film fixed in my mind – there are not really funny films about stupid people. Stupid people are … well … stupid, their behavior is by definition subject of easy jokes, so for smart and educated audiences laughing at stupid people comes together with a feeling of guilt. No fun.

What makes ‘Burn After Reading’ different then? I think that one of the reasons is that this is not only a comedy about stupid people, but more about a stupid people in a stupid system. The Coens attack, catch, and dissect a lot of holy cows of the American political system (the CIA, the government secrecy), morality (matrimonial fidelity), social habits (Internet dating, the gym) and national obsessions (the shrink, the divorce lawyer, the plastic surgery). Almost nothing that is a cliche in the average American behavior escapes becoming a victim of their cynical look.

While the script has certainly its role in the success of the comic experience, the story by itself does not try to be more than a funny chain of coincidences that hit a bunch of characters that act according to their immediate instincts and bad planning, something that brings us back to the time of the great comedies in the 30s and 40s of the past century. It would have been of no special effect without the master story telling skills of the Coen brothers, which pace their gags and laughs in the 96 minutes of screening (low figures well below recent Hollywood average).

Overall however the film succeeds through the perfect casting, and the brilliant manner by which the Coens succeed to bring the best out of their actors. John Malkovitch is an actor of all seasons, one of those that brings his personality in any role he does. Not here, where he melds into the alcoholic spy clerk, who loses his useless job and wife, hates the whole world and nobody cares about him, his life, or even about him losing the secrets he was supposed to have learned during his career. Frances McDormand who was the Coen’s unexpected heroine in ‘Fargo’ is back in the role of a gym clerk who does not hesitate to betray her country to finance plastic surgery, but worries even more being in time at her workplace after leaving the Russian embassy. Brad Pitt is her gym trainer companion, looking flat-minded and younger than in the teen years of his role as Benjamin Button.

And then George Clooney. I feel every time that I write about Clooney in the last few years that I need to apologize (to myself of course, as he does not read me or care) for having underestimated his talent and having considered him yet another TV actor and beautiful face. His work as a director and his last performances as an actor are better and better. Here he is superb, the happy husband who cheats his wife with Internet dates without knowing the reason, the involuntary and hysterical killer who associates with other stupid people in senseless actions.

Yes, it’s a cynical view of the world – but hey, this is entertainment, these are the Coen brothers. I am only worried a bit as I heard that the subject of their last film are the Jews!

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