Superficially, Burn After Reading – a spy spoof about a bunch of nitwits knee-deep in baffling espionage – couldn’t have less in common with the Coen Brothers’ previous, Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men. Yet as it smoothly segues from one goofy scenario to another, the surface foolishness of the Coens’ latest feels like a carefully designed bit of misdirection aimed at masking another tale of lonely, aimless people urgently in search of companionship, money – as in No Country, greed is the narrative’s prime impetus – and, fundamentally, dominion over a world that seems to be madly spinning out of control. When a CD created by recently fired CIA analyst Osborne (John Malkovich) is obtained by gym employees Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt), Linda sees it as an opportunity to get the cash she needs for reconstructive surgery. Osborne’s estranged ice queen wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) and her married treasury department paramour Harry (George Clooney) all figure into the rambling, convoluted story, which has a liveliness that implies comedy but a lingering sense of melancholy that hints at deeper motives. Burn After Reading’s stars bring screwball verve to their respective roles, with Malkovich in particular capturing hilarious indignation at the world’s random unjustness during his getting-fired introduction. Yet what resonates most forcefully is the sorrow underlying the Coens’ bright, bouncy, efficient mise-en-scène, from the look of desperation in McDormand’s overly cheery eyes to the directors’ finale, in which J.K. Simmons’ perplexed CIA head honcho listens in disbelief to a report about these various characters’ ignominious fates, most of which – in a nod to No Country’s controversy-inciting device – occur, like so much inconsequential nothing, off-screen.