So far I've seen eight Coen Brothers films:
Raising Arizona (1987)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Lady Killers (2004)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Burn After Reading ( 2008)
Until now I've found something to praise about all of them.
O Brother and Fargo are my absolute Coen favorites. I could watch them again and again.
My least favorite, until now, was The Lady Killers with Tom Hanks. It wasn't very funny, but it had some entertainment value.
Burn After Reading, however, is both unfunny and lacking in anything to praise, something I find remarkable in a film that boasts such a stellar cast:
George Clooney: Harry Pfarrer, the male equivalent of a nymphomaniac, who has a childish attachment to his wife Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel). He hits on any woman who looks at him, but is devastated when his wife serves him with divorce papers.
Frances McDormand: Linda Litzke, a love-hungry gym employee who wants to reinvent herself with cosmetic surgery and will do anything to get the money for the operations.
Brad Pitt: Chad Feldheimer, Linda's co-worker at the gym, the male equivalent of the dumb blonde. He goes along with Linda's ridiculous blackmail plans because he's stupid.
John Malkovich: Osbourne Cox, an unpleasant, foul-mouthed CIA agent who quits the CIA when he is demoted from a sensitive position because he drinks too much. Out of boredom he decides to write a tell-all memoir.
Tilda Swinton: Katie Cox, Osbourne's cheating wife. A medical doctor devoid of any bedside manner whatever, she's one of Harry's numerous sexual partners. When her husband Osbourne quits his job, she decides to divorce him and imagines that Harry will marry her when she's free. Her lawyer advises her to get a complete picture of Osbourne's finances before serving papers. She downloads some files that include his CIA memoir. Predictably, the CD goes astray and becomes the McGuffin that drives the action.
Richard Jenkins: Ted Treffon, former Orthodox bishop and present manager of Hardbodies, the gym where Linda and Chad work. He likes Linda. She's too busy with internet dating and trying to reinvent herself to notice that someone is already attracted to her as she is.
J. K. Simmons: A CIA superior. Agents who are following the complicated activities of the various couples report to him. In the few exchanges in which he appears, he conveys the idea that many of the government's intelligence operations involve inconsequential activities, extravagant expenses, and murder coverups.
Except for Malkovich and Pitt--whose abilities are extremely overrated--these are actors I would ordinarily go out of my way to see. Richard Jenkins especially is wasted in this film.
Perhaps if the Coens had made the movie with a cast of unknowns, the mindless story and disagreeable characters might have translated into harmless farce. As it is, Burn After Reading is a spectacular disappointment.