Here is yet another great movie to be added to the Coen’s already overwhelmingly impressive filmography. Like how The Big Lebowski came right after Fargo, Burn After Reading follows the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, and it provides the reminder that the Coens can do the serious thriller thing, and impress everyone, but still do the wacky comedy just as well. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is as good as The Big Lewbowski, but it’s in my Coen top five.

The story kicks into gear when an airhead gym employee, Chad, played by Brad Pitt, finds a disc in the locker room. The disc contains what he describes as “C.I.A. shit”. Thinking it’s highly valuable top secret information, he along with co worker Linda Litzke decide to organize returning it to it’s owner in exchange for a reward. In Chad’s mind, he’s being a good samaritan, but in an instantly classic scene when he and Linda phone Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), the ex-C.I.A. agent, that the disc belongs too, it quickly and somewhat accidentally becomes black mail. Chad and Linda become obsessed with somehow capitalizing on the situation,to get much needed cash. Linda has been planning on getting some plastic surgeries done, and the money from this could pay for it. Meanwhile, George Clooney’s character, Harry, is having an affair with Osborne Cox’s wife Katie, played by fellow Micheal Clayton alumni Tilda Swinton. The wonderful Richard Jenkins plays the manager at the gym who longs for Linda, unbeknownst to her.

The Coens once again paint a dark picture of humanity. Everyone in this movie is either greedy, self-centered, cheating, paranoid, vain or all of the above. Nearly every Coen movie is about normal people getting involved with dirty money and shady dealings. You might think it would have gotten old after 20 years of film making, but it’s interesting each and every time. Just because all the characters have their vices doesn’t mean they aren’t likable. Every character in their own way is interesting and earns at least a slight bit of empathy. The other common trait of Coen movies is that the normal people get hurt for getting in such business, and things get real ugly here.

Of course the screenplay and direction are Coen-y, and near perfect, but the performances are outstanding and make Burn After Reading worth seeing on thier own. The most surprising turn is by Brad Pitt, who is a revelation here. In the trailer, it was obvious he was gonna be silly and fun, but it doesn’t take long to realize he’s doing something special. His comedic stylings are uproarious and brilliant. In two particular scenes, the first being the time he phones Cox, and second being when Chad meets Cox are comedic heaven. Brad Pitt is becoming a very respectable actor with last year’s performance as Jesse James, what he has done here and hopefully in what he does in David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, coming out later this year. Frances McNormand is Oscar worthy with what may be her best work since Fargo. Her character isn’t quite as memorable, but she’s not far off either. This is my favourite George Clooney role, and it’s great to see him at his twitchy, paranoid best rather than seeing him play himself. John Malkovich is perfect, but that goes without saying, I think. Tilda Swinton is very good, but I question her staying power as a Hollywood top dramatic actress. The always enjoyable J.K. Simmons (Juno, Spiderman) shows up and does his thing with only a couple of minutes of screen time, but he nails it. The cast is one of the best this year, and in Coen canon it’s beaten only by Fargo and Lebowski.

In a breezy 96 minutes, the Coens tell a comical, dark, hilarious, sad, surprising story. Each of their best films are sacred, precious, so different and smart that we will never see a successful imitation. Each must be savoured, appreciated, recognized. It’s important to know how vital the Coens have been to American film, without whom we would be missing a vast portion of cinematic genius of the 80’s, 90’s and the early 21st century. These are film makers that will be revered, and studied years after they are gone. They are in their prime and they have 4 more movies on the docket, all set for release in the next couple years, according to IMDB. So, enjoy it while it lasts, because there will never, ever, be film makers quite like the Coen Bros.