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Burn After Reading 

It's ok, no one else understands what's happening in the new Coen Brother movie, either.

Burn After Reading is so in the moment that I didn't realize I liked the film until it finished. The Coens' follow-up to No Country For Old Men busts the hope of anyone wishing that the brothers are now completely serious. Their gift for comedy operates with the same quick wit as their dramatic features.

Burn After Reading's convoluted plot leaves the movie both giddy and, on first viewing, hard to find its shape. If it seems confusing, that's OK: Nobody in the movie understands what's happening, either. It's the Coens' funny take on human behaviour that reveals their love for pathetic characters. Like most of their movies, Burn After Reading is about how greed exacerbates other aspects of human folly. Gym workers Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt) come across some leaked CIA secrets, part of an unpublished expose written by fired agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), for which they want compensation. Osborne's wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), who is still compulsively drawn to finding new dates on the internet. None of them are capable of recognizing why bad things happen to them.

The extended joke is that everyone in Burn After Reading gets in over their heads by trying to convince others that they're something they're not. Linda's desire to be "Hollywood beautiful" leads her to create a wishlist of surgical procedures. The Coens also recognize that those who profess to hate cynicism, and insist others be happy all the time, tend to be the most insecure, depressed people around. Burn After Reading's comic cynicism lifts it above the shallow criticism that it's misanthropic. Life has value if you can laugh at it.

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