The best way to describe this film would be to say that it will only be disappointing if you've seen The Big Lebowski. Made by any other film-maker I'd be praising this through the roof. But if you set yourself high standards then you suffer the consequences. Not exactly fair to be punished for your own adequecy, but that's what's happening in this review.
The Positive things first. This is a great piece of cynical fluff although it is quite forgettable. It subverts what you expect and is entertaining in places. It is a typically strong Coen brothers plot that's suitably incomprehensible. The word Fuck is used numerously and to great comic effect. It has A listers to spare, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and recent Oscar winner Tilda Swinton; and quietly sneaks a few character actors in there too. But the Performances, despite the calibre of actors, are a mixed bag. The best of the big names is probably Malkovich, playing a recently fired low-level CIA analyst now the victim of blackmail. He is clearly enjoying himself immensely, particularly when swearing, which he does with great frequency and joy. When he disappears for the mid-section of the film, it most definately suffers. Pitt is funny, he will most definately make you laugh, and his lame attempts at blackmail are the funniest thing in the film. Clooney however is not so shiny, playing a character who isn't quite interesting enough to compensate for his utter irrelavancy. Clooney's scenes are the ones you sit through waiting for Pitt or Malkovich to come back on screen, which is a shame because Clooney can be very good in this type of thing as anyone who's seen O brother where art thou can testify to. But a special shout-out must go to J.K Simmons who almost steals the film in only two scenes. He is one of those actors who just makes a film better to view. Ditto Richard Jenkins ,who does a lot with a little.
The film is noticeably less visually entrancing then usual Coen fare, and Roger Deakins presence is most definately missed. The sullen visuals only add to the sullen tone and in many cases decidedly unspectacular dialogue that is noticeably less inspired then in previous outings by these film-makers. All in all you get the sense that their heart isn't quite in this one, and having seen all Coen brothers films but The Ladykillers ( because why) this is the 2nd weakest behind Intolerable cruelty. But 2nd tier Coen is better then most movies and as I said earlier if you want a cynical night out, this film will do fine. Not as funny as good as we may have hoped, but we hoped to a very high level.