Prince of preening and prancing

PUBLISHED: 13:54 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 17:10 16 August 2010

THE Coen Brothers follow-up to last year s Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men is a tongue-in-cheek but suitably skewed take on the spy thriller.

THE Coen Brothers' follow-up to last year's Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men is a tongue-in-cheek but suitably skewed take on the spy thriller.

The plot follows a typically convoluted web of connections and chance events so beloved of the Coens. It kicks off with an alcoholic CIA agent, Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), who is unceremoniously demoted. Rather than face the humiliation he quits, vowing to get his own back by writing his memoirs.

The news proves to be the final straw for his frosty, paediatrician wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), who begins preparing herself for a divorce. Meanwhile, we learn that Katie has been playing away with serial adulterer Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a married federal marshal who spends much of his considerable free time working on a bizarre top-secret project in his basement and trawling internet dating sites.

It is online that he meets Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), whose air-headed co-worker Chad Feldhemier (Brad Pitt) chances upon a computer disk containing a draft of Cox's memoir. Litze sees the disk as an opportunity to raise the funds to get the extensive plastic surgery she is convinced will help her love life and embarks on an ill-thought-out scheme to sell it to the highest bidder.

The separate strands are effortlessly interwoven into a fast-paced comedy of errors that unfolds with both tragic inevitability and hilarious calamity. The performances are universally strong: Malkovich is at his acerbic best and Swinton's Katie is as sharp as broken glass but it is Pitt's preening, prancing Chad that steals the show. Undoubtedly, one of the Coens' minor works, it's not as complex as Fargo or as funny as The Big Lebowski. The film is nevertheless a dark, diverting little comedy that punches above its weight. Burn After Reading is out on DVD now, Cert 15.

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