It's weird, but I don't even think of Brad Pitt as an actor anymore. I think of him as a photograph—a still image in a tabloid looking serene and carrying around 15 babies. But Pitt does, in fact, act in Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers' follow-up to last year's stunning cinematic tension headache No Country for Old Men. And he's fucking funny. As Chad Feldheimer, clueless personal trainer at a Washington, D.C., gym called Hardbodies, he comes into possession of a CD containing highly classified CIA intelligence. Along with Hardbodies coworker Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand at her chirpy best), Feldheimer fumbles through a blackmail attempt on ex-CIA analyst Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich): "I thought you might be worried... about the security... of your shit."

Burn After Reading is an astute, brutal comedy about infidelity, modern idiocy, paranoia, and the CIA. Set to thundering action-movie drums, the characters brew immense tempests over the most mundane nonsense. The acting is uniformly fantastic—George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins—but no character is particularly likable, and all border on the cartoonish. Burn After Reading is sillier and less thematically cohesive than Fargo or Raising Arizona, but it takes a turn exactly one hour in that reminds you just how fucked-up and brilliant the Coens can be. Brad Pitt is involved.recommended