Review by Farah Nayeri, Bloomberg.com
Brad Pitt, one of Hollywood's most sought-after heroes, is knocked off his plinth in Burn After Reading.
The spy comedy, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, casts Pitt as a goofy personal trainer who blackmails a CIA agent with a disk carrying the agent's memoirs. Too dumb to pull off the scam, he sparks senseless bloodshed on screen, and waves of laughter in the stalls. The movie yesterday opened the Venice Film Festival, where directors and cast met reporters at a packed press conference.
Roles were tailor-made for each individual actor.
"After reading the part they said was handwritten for myself, I was not sure if I should be flattered or insulted," said the star, sporting a goatee and a panama that matched his summer suit. "I'm still a bit unsure."
A weary-looking Joel Coen, sunglasses perched on his head, offered slim solace. "We have a long history of writing parts for idiotic characters," said Joel, who, with brother Ethan, won three Academy Awards in February for the baffling murder story No Country for Old Men.
Pitt is one in a galaxy of idols to get bashed in Burn After Reading. Frances McDormand, his partner in crime, plays a single middle-aged woman who pines for plastic surgery. John Malkovich is the neurotic spy; Tilda Swinton, his snooty wife; and George Clooney, her lover, and everybody else's.
The film opens at CIA headquarters, where bald Osborne Cox (Malkovich) has just been fired by a roomful of dark-suited superiors, and is raging back. He storms home to wife Katie, who goes shopping for cheese before he can tell his story.
That night, in their tasteful Georgetown master bedroom, Cox -- dressed, like his pediatrician wife, in crisp blue pajamas -- tells Katie that he has quit, and is penning "a sort of memoir." She responds with a snort.
A few scenes later, we meet a less well-heeled bunch. Linda Litzke (McDormand) is having her left buttock sized up by a plastic surgeon, who tots up the cost of taking "chicken fat" off her posterior, upper arms, and belly, and boosting her chest. "What about the face? You know, the window to the soul?" she probes, and gets her crow's feet added to the wish list. Only, Linda can't afford the treatment, and the insurers won't pay.
Enter gum-chewing, lycra-clad Chad Feldheimer (Pitt), a personal trainer who inflicts pain on his clients, has an iPod all but grafted to his ears, and helps co-worker Linda pick Internet dates from among an array of losers. When the janitor finds the CIA disk in the ladies' changing room, big-hearted, dim-witted Chad lets Linda in on his plan.
Whenever victory seems near, Chad swerves his hips and gleefully punches the air -- looking nothing like the dignified Pitt of the glossies, father of Angelina Jolie's just-born twins. He tries to scare Cox into paying, half-closing his eyes when the two meet, and pronouncing Cox's name with menacing emphasis. Pitt is the movie's funniest character.
The other actors, who have as big a part, come a close second. Bearded Clooney offers fine comic moments as the slightly square federal marshal who is bad at sniffing trouble and, in his time off, builds the prototype of an armchair that pleasures women.
"I enjoyed working with them," he said of the Coen brothers, "and playing an idiot."
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