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  'Burn After Reading' Movie Review (2 Stars)
      Movie Reviews by Michael Phillips

 

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading Movie Review Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt | Film Critic Michael Phillips Reviews Burn After Reading | Video
Brad Pitt Stars in Burn After Reading

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The dour espionage goof "Burn After Reading" offers a few laughs, most of them provided by Brad Pitt as a serenely clueless gym employee who really, really likes his iPod, and by David Rasche and J.K. Simmons as C.I.A. analysts who don't know anything about anything.

On screen, delusional schmoes are more fun than smart people, and in the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, the imperious former spook played by John Malkovich accuses his blackmailers, played by Pitt and Frances McDormand, of heading a "league of morons."

Washington, D.C., here is a town built on a swamp of stupid, and as in all Coen japes, stupid has at least a 40 percent chance of getting you killed in spectacularly violent fashion.

But the cosmic joke being played on the morons here isn't much fun in the telling.

The disappointment of "Burn After Reading" has nothing to do with it being a less "serious" or "grown-up" project than the Coens' previous one, last year's "No Country for Old Men," which won them a best picture Oscar. "No Country" was no less dependent on grim comic irony than "Burn After Reading," a daisy chain of chancy decisions leading to blood all over a bedroom closet wall.

The disappointment here is simply a matter of limited surprise and surprisingly meager wit.

The brothers are unlikely ever to make a slovenly or unpolished film. Each script they concoct boasts at least one (usually more) clever intersection of narratives or a turn of phrase you couldn't get from any other contemporary filmmaker.

In "Burn After Reading" one such phrase is "lactose reflux," a condition George Clooney's character claims to have, and the way he says it -- this is at a party attended by the D.C. federal marshal's mistress, played by a flame-haired, ferociously controlling Tilda Swinton -- you can't trust him.

Only Richard Jenkins' love for the McDormand character (he's the manager of the suburban gym who can't understand why she wants to spend thousands of dollars on plastic surgery) provides a little contrast for all the craven yutzes' behavior.

The blackmail plot hinges on a computer disk, which McDormand's character, Linda Litzke, wants to sell to the Russians. It's a ridiculous non-starter of a plan, and the movie never builds up much steam.

The cast is very good, and they're ready to play, but the playground is designed in bloodlessly clever fashion.

As photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, "Burn After Reading" looks like "Three Days of the Condor" or "The Good Shepherd" with a lot of bug-eyed muggers in it, working at one notch below their best abilities. Clooney remains as game as ever, but the way he and McDormand push the energy here, you feel the strain. Pitt, just floating through, comes off best. He doesn't judge the moron he's playing; he just is.

 

Burn After Reading Movie Review by Michael Phillips on Video

 

MPAA rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content, and violence)

Running time: 1:36

Starring: George Clooney (Harry Pfarrer); Frances McDormand (Linda Litzke); John Malkovich (Osbourne Cox); Tilda Swinton (Katie Cox); Richard Jenkins (Ted Treffon); Brad Pitt (Chad Feldheimer)

Written, produced and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen; photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Roderick Jaynes; music by Carter Burwell; production design by Jess Gonchor. A Focus Features release.

About "Burn After Reading" the Movie

At the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Arlington, Va., analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) arrives for a top-secret meeting. Unfortunately for Cox, the secret is soon out: he is being ousted. Cox does not take the news particularly well and returns to his Georgetown home to work on his memoirs and his drinking, not necessarily in that order. His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is dismayed, though not particularly surprised; she is already well into an illicit affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a married federal marshal, and sets about making plans to leave Cox for Harry.

Elsewhere in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, and seemingly worlds apart, Hardbodies Fitness Centers employee Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) can barely concentrate on her work. She is consumed with her life plan for extensive cosmetic surgery, and confides her mission to can-do colleague Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt). Linda is all but oblivious to the fact that the gym's manager Ted Treffon (Richard Jenkins) pines for her even as she arranges dates via the Internet with other men.

When a computer disc containing material for the CIA analyst's memoirs accidentally falls into the hands of Linda and Chad, the duo are intent on exploiting their find. As Ted frets, "No good can come of this," events spiral out of everyone's and anyone's control, in a cascading series of darkly hilarious encounters.

A Focus Features presentation in association with StudioCanal and Relativity Media of a Working Title production. Burn After Reading. George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, and Brad Pitt. Casting by Ellen Chenoweth. Music by Carter Burwell. Costume Designer, Mary Zophres. Production Designer, Jess Gonchor. Edited by Roderick Jaynes. Director of Photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, A.M.C. Executive Producers, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Robert Graf. Written, Produced and Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen. A Focus Features Release.

In Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers mix and match strains of comedic DNA - screwball comedy, satire, sex farce - to weave a tale of an ousted CIA analyst, two D.C. gym employees, and a lost computer disc that may contain highly sensitive material.

As events in the contemporary story spin blithely out of control, sinister forces are at work and the dark side of the material comes to the fore.

The fact that Burn After Reading follows last year's No Country for Old Men in the Coens' filmography speaks more to timing than to any storytelling avenue being pursued; although the characters in both suffer dire consequences, that has long been a constant in the Brothers' films.

Joel Coen notes, "We actually wrote this script around the same time we were adapting No Country for Old Men."

Ethan Coen adds, "We came up with the idea thinking about different parts we wanted to write for actors that we know - who we thought might be fun to throw together; George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, Frances McDormand, and Brad Pitt, each of whom we know and all of whom we have worked with before, except for Brad. We thought about a mix of characters, and a story, that might be interesting to see these actors play."

Joel enumerates, "Having worked with both George and Richard twice before, and at least four times with Fran, they are among the actors that inspire us to write characters for them.

"Like Brad, John Malkovich is someone we hadn't worked with before but have wanted to for some time. So we wrote John's part specifically for him, which was a lot of fun to do."

The characters in Burn After Reading are, as the Coens clarify, "knuckleheads, but not unlovable ones. We asked the actors to embrace their inner knucklehead."

Further, says Joel, "The story is about middle-aged people, all of whom are undergoing professional, personal, and sexual crises touching on matters of national security. That's what makes it a Washington tale. The plot concerns the Central Intelligence Agency and the world of physical fitness, and what happens when those two worlds intersect and collide; Internet dating is also in the mix."

"It's a comedy, broadly speaking, and we've certainly done those before," says Ethan. "But the world of Washington, D.C., the world of spies and intrigue - that, we haven't done before."

"Well, years and years ago, we did do an adaptation of Advise and Consent in Super 8," reveals Joel. "That's the last time we tried taking on 'inside the Beltway' subject matter."

Ethan admits, "We didn't get the rights to the original Allen Drury novel, so you can't see that picture commercially. Like Advise and Consent, this new picture is about the personal meeting the political, with melodrama. Burn After Reading is also our version of a Tony Scott/Jason Bourne kind of movie - without the explosions."

"A Seven Days in May sort of thing," adds Joel.

George Clooney, who has made and/or starred in several politically themed projects, offers, "Despite the Washington setting, this picture is really about shockingly dumb people doing dumb things involving sex and other situations. What makes it even more interesting is that they're not politicians.

"As soon as they called me up, I knew I'd do it. What could be better? After all, it's the Coen Brothers. They make roles available to you that people don't know you're capable of doing as an actor. Then they told me they wrote the part for me, which worried me…"

Ethan comments, "As George gets older, our characters for George are getting older, and not wiser."

Clooney muses, "Harry's not unlike the dopes I've played in my other films for the Coens. He's this sort of sad, moronic character. But there's a viciousness to this guy that doesn't exist in, say, Everett in O, Brother Where Art Thou? This script made me howl when I read it. It's so insane, I just went with it. I grew the beard they thought the character should have and showed up to the set - where I finally had the chance to work with Fran."

Frances McDormand remembers, "In the first scene for my character in the script, the description said, 'Close Up On A Woman's Ass. Pale. Bare. Middle-Aged.'

"Why should one even read on? Why should one even consider the job?"

Ethan reveals, "It's fun to write for Fran because you know she's good. It's not fun to show the script to her once it's written, because she yells at you."

"You've been scripting it for a number of months, and she'll go, 'This is it?' But we usually work through that," assures Joel.

McDormand says, "You know, I've been working with Joel and Ethan for the last 25 years. Their first movie [Blood Simple] was my first movie. I don't know why they make me do what they make me do. But it's always worth it."

Brad Pitt had been waiting a long time for a role in a Coen Brothers film, and at last the call came.

The actor admits, "I didn't think the guy would be a dumbbell, a gum-chewing, Gatorade-swilling, iPod-addicted bubble-brain. I said to Joel and Ethan, 'He's such an idiot…' But, he does have a good heart.

"Basically, I see the role as a career-buster."

Clooney shrugs this off, saying of his longtime friend and costar, "Brad is going to steal Burn After Reading."

Joel offers, "Brad grew to love playing a numbskull as much as George does, and he's very funny in the role."

McDormand adds, "Brad was doing some things in our scenes together which made it very hard not for me to crack up."

Like Pitt, John Malkovich had been hoping to work with the Coens for years. He states, "When they called and told me they'd written a role for me, well, I was delighted. The whole script centers on people's quests to change themselves.

"Ozzie is a sarcastic man, and an unbelievable lush. When he gets canned, it throws him into a tizzy, and he writes his memoirs - very badly."

As Cox's wife Katie, Tilda Swinton reports, "I have great lines, like 'Stop the foolishness!' Katie feels she's surrounded by bungling fools; she's angry about everything, disappointed in her husband and disappointed in life."

Becoming nearly as disappointed is Richard Jenkins' Ted Treffon, who, the actor says, "is described as 'soulful.' He's desperately in love with Frances' character, Linda. But she only thinks of him as a friend.

"I had previously made two other movies with Frances - neither of which we had any scenes together in. I finally got to actually work with her, and she's as good as you think she is."

About the Cast "Burn After Reading" the Movie

GEORGE CLOONEY (Harry Pfarrer)

George Clooney has won renown as a motion picture and television actor, producer, executive producer, writer and director.

In 2006, he was honored with three Academy Award nominations - Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (with Grant Heslov), for Good Night, and Good Luck; and Best Supporting Actor, for his performance in Syriana. He won the latter Oscar; it was the first time in the awards' history that an individual had received acting and directing nominations for two different films in the same year.

Prior to Burn After Reading, Mr. Clooney previously starred for Joel and Ethan Coen in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, for which he won a Golden Globe Award, and Intolerable Cruelty; previously starred with Brad Pitt in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, and Ocean's Thirteen; and previously acted opposite Tilda Swinton in her Academy Award-winning performance in Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton. The latter film earned Mr. Clooney Oscar, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA Award nominations, among other honors.

He is partnered with Grant Heslov in in the film and television production company Smokehouse Pictures. The two previously worked together at Section Eight, in which Mr. Clooney was partnered with Steven Soderbergh. Section Eight produced such films as Good Night, and Good Luck; Syriana; Ocean's Eleven and Ocean's Twelve; John Maybury's The Jacket; Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal; Anthony and Joe Russo's Welcome to Collinwood; Christopher Nolan's Insomnia; and, for Focus Features, Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven.

In Section Eight's television division, Mr. Clooney was an executive producer on, and directed five of the episodes of, Unscripted, which aired in 2005. He also was an executive producer on, and cameraman for, the 2003 series K Street. Both shows fused reality and fiction.

He made his feature directorial debut in 2002 with the Section Eight production of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, for which he won the Special Achievement in Film Award from the National Board of Review. He followed it up in 2005 with Good Night, and Good Luck, in which he also co-starred. He was recognized for his work on the latter by nearly every major film critics' organization. He was honored with the Paul Selvin Award from the Writers Guild of America and the the Freedom Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association. In addition to the two Academy Award nominations, he was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, three BAFTA Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Independent Spirit Award, two Critics' Choice Awards, a WGA Award, and a Directors Guild of America Award, among others.

Also in 2005, Mr. Clooney co-starred in and co-produced Syriana. The film garnered him accolades all over the world including a Golden Globe Award in addition to the Oscar win. He was also nominated for Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA, and Critics' Choice Awards, among other honors.

He has also earned critical acclaim starring in such films as Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight and David O. Russell's Three Kings. Among his other films are Steven Soderbergh's Solaris and The Good German; Mimi Leder's The Peacemaker; Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin; Michael Hoffman's One Fine Day; and Robert Rodriguez' From Dusk Till Dawn.

Mr. Clooney has starred in several television series but is best known to TV audiences for his five years on the hit NBC drama ER. His portrayal of Dr. Douglas Ross earned him Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, People's Choice, and Emmy Award nominations.

He was executive producer and co-star of the live television broadcast of Fail Safe, developed through his Maysville Pictures, which won two Emmy Awards and was directed by Stephen Frears. Fail Safe, based on the novel of the same name, also received Golden Globe and DGA Award nominations.

Mr. Clooney recently directed Smokehouse's Leatherheads, in which he starred opposite Renée Zellweger and John Krasinksi.

FRANCES McDORMAND (Linda Litzke)

Frances McDormand has established a worldwide cinema audience with roles in a variety of films, including her Academy Award-winning portrayal of Marge Gunderson in the acclaimed Coen Brothers film Fargo. Other films include Bharat Nalluri's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day); Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money (Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress); Niki Caro's North Country (Academy Award, Golden Globe, and SAG Award nominations); Lisa Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon; Nancy Meyers' Something's Gotta Give; Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Academy Award nominations, as well as several critics' awards); Curtis Hanson's Wonder Boys; Michael Caton-Jones' City by the Sea, opposite Robert De Niro; Daisy Von Scherler Mayer's Madeline; Gregory Hoblit's Primal Fear; John Sayles' Lone Star; Alan Taylor's Palookaville; Mick Jackson's Chattahoochee, opposite Gary Oldman; Sam Raimi's Darkman, opposite Liam Neeson; Ken Loach's Hidden Agenda, opposite Brian Cox; Robert Altman's Short Cuts (Venice International Film Festival Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Ensemble Cast); John Boorman's Beyond Rangoon; Bruce Beresford's Paradise Road; and Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning (Academy Award nomination).

With the Coen Brothers, she has made three other films; Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and The Man Who Wasn't There.

Ms. McDormand has starred in the television films The Good Old Boys, directed by Tommy Lee Jones; Talking With…, directed by Kathy Bates; Crazy in Love, directed by Martha Coolidge; and Hidden in America (Emmy Award nomination), opposite Jeff Bridges and directed by Martin Bell.

She studied at the Yale School of Drama. Her stage successes include Caryl Churchill's Far Away, directed by Stephen Daldry, at the New York Theatre Workshop; her Tony Award-nominated performance as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire; The Sisters Rosenzweig, at Lincoln Center; The Swan, at the Public Theatre; A Streetcar Named Desire (this time as Blanche), at the Gate Theater in Dublin; and Dare Clubb's Oedipus, at the Blue Light Theater Company, opposite Billy Crudup. Recently, she spent two years with The Wooster Group workshopping and then performing To You, The Birdie!

She returned to the Broadway stage this spring in Clifford Odets' The Country Girl, directed by Mike Nichols and starring opposite Morgan Freeman.

JOHN MALKOVICH (Osborne Cox)

John Malkovich has twice been nominated for the Academy Award, for his performances in Robert Benton's Places in the Heart (opposite Oscar winner Sally Field) and Wolfgang Petersen's In the Line of Fire.

Among his many other screen credits are Roland Joffé's The Killing Fields; Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun; Gary Sinise's Miles from Home and Of Mice and Men; Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons; Bernardo Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky; Nicolas Roeg's telefilm Heart of Darkness; Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady; E. Elias Merhige's Shadow of the Vampire; Liliana Cavani's Ripley's Game; Brian W. Cook's Colour Me Kubrick; Sean McGinly's The Great Buck Howard; Clint Eastwood's upcoming Changeling; and Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, for which Mr. Malkovich was cited as Best Supporting Actor by the New York Film Critics Circle.

He has enjoyed long-term cinematic collaborations with writer/directors Raoul Ruiz (on Time Regained, Savage Souls, Klimt, and the forthcoming Love and Virtue) and Manoel de Oliveira (on The Convent, I'm Going Home, and A Talking Picture).

Born and raised in Illinois, Mr. Malkovich attended Illinois State University, eventually majoring in theatre. With his friend Gary Sinise, he helped co-found

Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1976. He won an Obie Award when Steppenwolf presented Sam Shepard's True West in New York; appeared with Dustin Hoffman in the 1984 Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, later winning an Emmy Award for Volker Schlöndorff's telefilm version of the production; and starred on Broadway in Lanford Wilson's Burn This.

Mr. Malkovich directed and produced the feature The Dancer Upstairs, starring Javier Bardem. His other films as producer, through his company Mr. Mudd, include Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, for which Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi earned Golden Globe Award nominations; Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp; and Jason Reitman's smash Juno, which won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Picture and the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Diablo Cody), among other honors.

TILDA SWINTON (Katie Cox)

Tilda Swinton won an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for her performance in Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton, which starred George Clooney. She also received Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Award nominations for her portrayal. Ms. Swinton had earlier been a Golden Globe Award nominee for David Siegel and Scott McGehee's The Deep End, which also brought her an Independent Spirit Award nomination.

She will next be seen starring with Brad Pitt in David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

A native of Scotland, Ms. Swinton started making films with the English director Derek Jarman in 1985, with Caravaggio. The made several more films together, including The Last of England, The Garden, War Requiem, Edward II (for which she was named Best Actress at the 1991 Venice International Film Festival), and Wittgenstein, before Mr. Jarman's death in 1994.

She gained wider international recognition in 1992 with her portrayal of Orlando, based on the novel by Virginia Woolf under the direction of Sally Potter. Since then, her films have included Lynn Hershman-Leeson, Conceiving Ada and Teknolust (in four roles); Susan Streitfeld's Female Perversions; John Maybury's Love is the Devil; Robert Lepage's Possible Worlds; Danny Boyle's The Beach; Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky; Spike Jonze's Academy Award-winning Adaptation; David Mackenzie's Young Adam; two films costarring with Keanu Reeves, Mike Mills' Thumbsucker and Francis Lawrence's Constantine; Béla Tarr's The Man from London; Andrew Adamson's two blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia tales; and Erick Zonca's Julia, which world-premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival.

She recently completed a role in Jim Jarmusch's new film, the tentatively titled The Limits of Control, after having appeared in the writer/director's Broken Flowers.

RICHARD JENKINS (Ted)

Richard Jenkins is one of the most in-demand character actors in the film business, having made over 50 features.

He was most recently seen in the lead role of Walter Vale in Thomas McCarthy's independent feature The Visitor, which played to critical acclaim at both the Toronto International and Sundance Film Festivals. For his performance, Mr. Jenkins was honored with the John Garfield Award for Best Actor at the 2008 Method Fest independent film festival, as well as with a Career Achievement Award.

He was an Independent Spirit Award nominee as Best Supporting Male for his performance in David O. Russell's Flirting with Disaster, appearing with Ben Stiller, Téa Leoni, Josh Brolin, and Lily Tomlin.

Mr. Jenkins had his first film starring role in On Valentine's Day, adapted by Horton Foote from his play of the same name and directed by Ken Harrison. The actor went on to appear in, among other features, George Miller's The Witches of Eastwick; Richard Benjamin's Little Nikita; Mike Nichols' Wolf; Clint Eastwood's Absolute Power; the Farrelly Brothers' There's Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene; Sydney Pollack's Random Hearts; Niki Caro's North Country; Dean Parisot's Fun with Dick and Jane; Peter Berg's The Kingdom; and Adam McKay's Step Brothers, alongside Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Mary Steenburgen.

On television, he is best remembered as Nathaniel Fisher, the deceased patriarch on the celebrated series Six Feet Under, and shared a 2002 Screen Actors Guild Award nomination with his fellow actors on the show for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. His numerous telefilm appearances include Robert Dornhelm's Sins of the Father and Roger Spottiswoode's Emmy Award-winning And the Band Played On.

In theatre, Mr. Jenkins has amassed an impressive list of credits as a company member for 14 years at Rhode Island's Trinity Repertory Company, serving an additional 4 years as its Artistic Director.

Burn After Reading marks Mr. Jenkins' third collaboration with Joel and Ethan Coen, following The Man Who Wasn't There (with Billy Bob Thornton, James Gandolfini, and Scarlett Johansson) and Intolerable Cruelty (with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones).

ELIZABETH MARVEL (Sandy Pfarrer)

Elizabeth Marvel recently starred in Almost an Evening, three short plays by Ethan Coen that were staged off-Broadway by Neil Pepe at the Atlantic Theater Company's Stage 2.

The Native Pennsylvanian studied at Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy, and the Juilliard School in New York City. Her off-Broadway stage credits have since included What the Butler Saw; As You Like It; Henry V; Macbeth; Alice in Bed; Lydie Breeze; Terrorism; and Misalliance, Hedda Gabler, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Therese Raquin, all of which brought her Obie Awards.

Ms. Marvel's Broadway stage work includes The Seagull; St. Joan; An American Daughter; Taking Sides; Seascape; and, through the spring of 2008, Top Girls.

She has appeared on television in episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent; Kidnapped; Homicide: Life on the Street; New York Undercover; and The District, on which she was a series regular.

Ms. Marvel's films include Craig Lucas' The Dying Gaul; George LaVoo's A Dog Year, with Jeff Bridges; Paul Schneider's Pretty Bird with Paul Giamatti and Billy Crudup; Amy Redford's The Guitar; and Nancy Porter's Louisa May Alcott, in which she stars as the famed author.

JK SIMMONS (CIA Superior)

JK Simmons is well-known to audiences for his film, television, and stage work.

He has appeared in such films as the Coen Brothers' The Ladykillers; Jason Reitman's smash hit Juno, opposite Ellen Page and Allison Janney; and, as J. Jonah Jameson, in Sam Raimi's blockbuster Spider-Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, and Willem Dafoe.

Mr. Simmons' many other film credits include Jason Reitman's Thank You For Smoking; Joe Johnston's Hidalgo (as Buffalo Bill Cody); Gore Verbinski's The Mexican, with Brad Pitt; Sam Raimi's For Love of the Game; Gavin Hood's Rendition; and Lasse Hallström's The Cider House Rules.

He just finished shooting Jennifer's Body, written by Juno's Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and directed by Karyn Kusama; and John Hamburg's I Love You Man, opposite Paul Rudd.

Mr. Simmons stars opposite Kyra Sedgwick on the acclaimed television series The Closer, for which he and the ensemble have twice been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award. He memorably starred as Vern Schillinger on Oz while also playing a decade-long recurring role as Dr. Emil Skoda on Law & Order.

On Broadway, he has starred in productions of Guys and Dolls, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, and Peter Pan.

BRAD PITT (Chad Feldheimer)

Brad Pitt, one of today's most-watched film actors, is also a successful film producer, with his company Plan B Entertainment.

He was an Academy Award nominee for his performance in Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, for which he won a Golden Globe Award. He was also a Golden Globe Award nominee for his performances in Edward Zwick's Legends of the Fall and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel.

Mr. Pitt most recently starred as Jesse James in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik, for which he was named Best Actor at the 2007 Venice International Film Festival. He has completed filming David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of the same name, reteaming him with his Babel co-star Cate Blanchett as well as Tilda Swinton.

He starred opposite George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh's hits Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, and Ocean's Thirteen.

Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, he grew up in Springfield, Missouri, and attended the University of Missouri at Columbia where he majored in Journalism. Right before graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to study graphic design, but instead began to pursue an acting career, studying with Roy London. Soon after, he began securing roles in television, including the series Glory Days and the acclaimed telefilms The Image (directed by Peter Werner) and Too Young to Die? (directed by Robert Markowitz).

It was Mr. Pitt's role in Ridley Scott's Academy Award-winning Thelma and Louise that first brought him national attention. He soon went on to star in Robert Redford's Academy Award-winning A River Runs Through It; Dominic Sena's Kalifornia; and Neil Jordan's Interview With the Vampire.

He has also starred in Tom DiCillo's Johnny Suede, which won the Golden Leopard Award for Best Picture at the 1991 Locarno International Film Festival; Ralph Bakshi's Cool World; Tony Scott's True Romance; Barry Levinson's Sleepers; Alan J. Pakula's The Devil's Own; Jean-Jacques Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet; Martin Brest's Meet Joe Black; and Se7en and Fight Club, which were Mr. Pitt's first two films with director David Fincher.

His more recent films include Doug Liman's Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which was one of 2005's biggest successes; Wolfgang Petersen's Troy; Patrick Gilmore and Tim Johnson's animated feature Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas; Tony Scott's Spy Game; Gore Verbinski's The Mexican; Guy Ritchie's Snatch; and, in cameos, Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal and George Clooney's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

Mr. Pitt's Plan B Entertainment develops and produces film and television projects. Plan B has thus far produced such films as Martin Scorsese's The Departed, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director; Michael Winterbottom's A Mighty Heart, for which Angelina Jolie received Golden Globe, Independent Spirit, Critics' Choice, and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations; Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp; Ryan Murphy's Running with Scissors, for which Annette Bening received a Golden Globe Award nomination; Troy; and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.

About the Filmmakers

JOEL COEN (Director/Writer/Producer)

Joel Coen was honoured by the Cannes International Film Festival in 2001, as Best Director for The Man Who Wasn't There, and in 1991, as Best Director for Barton Fink. He was honoured as Best Director by the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review, and the BAFTA Awards for 1996's Fargo; and also won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Fargo, which he co-wrote with his brother Ethan.

The screenplay for O Brother, Where Art Thou?, also co-written with Ethan, was nominated for a BAFTA Award and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Other films that he has directed and co-written are Intolerable Cruelty; The Big Lebowski; The Hudsucker Proxy; Miller's Crossing; Raising Arizona; and Blood Simple.

He co-directed and co-wrote the 2004 comedy The Ladykillers with Ethan. Joel and Ethan Coen's most recent film is their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Among their honours for the latter were the Directors Guild of America, BAFTA, and Academy Awards; the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay; Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay from the New York Film Critics Circle; and Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay from the

Oscars and the National Board of Review. The film's cast was voted the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and Javier Bardem won the Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, among other accolades.

ETHAN COEN (Director/Writer/Producer)

Ethan Coen has produced and co-written such critically acclaimed films as Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, which won the Palme d'Or [Best Picture], Best Director, and Best Actor (John Turturro) Awards at the 1991 Cannes International Film Festival; and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which was nominated for two Academy Awards, five BAFTA Awards, and two Golden Globe Awards (winning one).

One of 1996's most honoured films, Fargo, which he produced and co-wrote, received seven Academy Award nominations and won two, including Best Original Screenplay for Ethan and his brother Joel. Among the other films that he has co-written and produced are Blood Simple; Raising Arizona; The Hudsucker Proxy; The Big Lebowski; The Man Who Wasn't There; and Intolerable Cruelty.

He co-directed and co-wrote the 2004 comedy The Ladykillers with Joel. Joel and Ethan Coen's most recent film is their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Among their honours for the latter were the Directors Guild of America, BAFTA, and Academy and Awards; the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay; Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay from the New York Film Critics Circle; Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay from the Oscars and the National Board of Review; The film's cast was voted the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, and Javier Bardem won the Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor, among other accolades.

Almost an Evening, comprising three short plays by Ethan Coen, was staged earlier this year off-Broadway by Neil Pepe at the Atlantic Theater Company's Stage 2 and then at the Bleecker Street Theater; in spring 2009, the same director and company will stage his three new short plays under the title Offices.

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