The Coen Brothers are currently in Cannes, presenting their extremely well-received No Country for Old Men. It seems likely that this Western noir, adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, will be hailed as a return to form for the Coens after the mild disappointments of The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. Meanwhile, the trades have been actively reporting superstar casting of the Coens' next film, Burn After Reading: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and John Malkovich have all been announced, and the Hollywood Reporter keeps referring to the script for Burn After Reading as being "shrouded in secrecy." But not so shrouded in secrecy that we couldn't read it!
As one could expect from a pair of writer-directors who followed Barton Fink with The Hudsucker Proxy, and The Man Who Wasn't There with Intolerable Cruelty, Burn After Reading is a comedy; its dark wit and ridiculously tangled plot differ substantially from the austere drama of No Country for Old Men. Malkovich plays Osbourne Cox, an alcoholic fired CIA agent whose memoir manuscript accidentally leaks. Pitt plays Chad Feldheimer, a dim-bulb personal trainer who finds the CD-ROM containing the manuscript and launches a plan to profit from the discovery. And Clooney plays Harry Pfarrer, a gone-slightly-to-seed Treasury agent whose philandering lands him in the middle of the ensuing mess.
We've speculated before that this film, starring as it does Clooney, might complete the Clooney-Coen "idiot trilogy," after O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Intolerable Cruelty. Given the number of foolish misunderstandings, romantic entanglements, accidental shootings, Lycra-clad asses, and "lactose reflux" references in the script, we think we're right. The screenplay is awfully funny, as in this exchange when Chad helps his best friend, Linda, check out an Internet dating site and comes across a potential beau with aviator glasses:
He uh, he might not be a loser.
How can you tell?
That's a Brioni suit.
Does he look like he has a sense of humor?
He looks like his optometrist has a sense of humor.
And if Burn After Reading, like Intolerable Cruelty before it, is marred with a few more gruesome deaths than is strictly necessary, it's quite apparent that the stars already cast are aligned perfectly with their roles: Clooney the aging Lothario who winds up straight man to an outlandish caper, Malkovich the unhinged secret-keeper at the end of his tether, and Pitt as a muscle-bound doofus with big dreams. It's the dumbest role Pitt's played, actually, since his memorable scenes in True Romance, and watching Pitt and Clooney play stupid will make a nice change from their smarter-than-the-room routine in the upcoming Ocean's Whatever. Look for Burn After Reading to shoot this summer and premiere in 2008.