I tend to run hot and cold on the Coen Brothers. Fargo is one of my very favorite movies—I've seen it at least six times in its entirety, and if I'm flipping channels and discover it's on HBO, I'll let it play out. It's highly dramatic, with occasional touches of black comedy. No film by the Coens has kept (or could keep) me riveted quite like Fargo; even the much-heralded No Country for Old Men failed to surpass its predecessor. Most of Fargo's main characters are seamy and morally bankrupt, but Frances McDormand, as a kind-hearted policewoman, gives the story its incorruptible good guy.
There are no such good guys in Burn After Reading, the Coens' 2008 offering, and in a screenplay littered with idiots and misfits, McDormand is relegated to being one of the main ding-dongs. (I missed her Midwestern accent from Fargo—she should be required to do it in every movie.) The convoluted story involves an ex-CIA operative (John Malkovich), a philandering Treasury agent (George Clooney) and a couple of birdbrained gym employees (Brad Pitt and McDormand), whose lives all intersect after a blackmail plot goes awry. The viewer is never compelled to give anything remotely approaching a shit about any of these people, so we're left to chuckle at the curious coincidences and occasional dollops of black comedy. The drama doesn't add up to much of anything, but the Fargo-like musical score (by Coen favorite Carter Burwell) works overtime to keep reminding us that it's all very dramatic. Rating: 3/5.