A pair of Coens might as well be one at Toronto

TORONTO Sat Sep 6, 2008 3:10pm EDT

Directors and brothers Ethan Coen (L) and Joel Coen arrives at the ''Burn After Reading'' gala during the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival, September 5, 2008. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Directors and brothers Ethan Coen (L) and Joel Coen arrives at the ''Burn After Reading'' gala during the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival, September 5, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch

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TORONTO (Reuters) - There is a reason they are called the Coen Bros., and not Joel Coen and Ethan Coen: they might as well be one person.

Not only do they look similar, but they speak the same way too, finishing each other's sentences and chipping in with context when one might forget.

Joel, 53 and older by about three years, is a notch taller, and his brown hair is longer. But both are bearded, both wear glasses, and both admit people confuse them often.

"There was a time when people used to ask us to identify ourselves each time we started speaking, especially if it was on the phone," Joel told Reuters. "But that just broke up the conversation too much."

The Coens, who won Oscars for best film, directing and writing for 2007's dark crime drama, "No Country for Old Men," are at it again with a new movie, "Burn After Reading," which had its North American debut the Toronto film festival late on Friday.

The film marks a return to the madcap comedies such as "Raising Arizona" and "The Big Lebowski" that gained them a cult-like following, and it stars Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton.

Pitt plays a hyperactive gym instructor trying to blackmail a former CIA agent (Malkovich). Swinton is the CIA spy's icily efficient wife, who is having an affair with two-timing "sad, moronic dope" of a federal marshall portrayed by Clooney.

In a not-very-fast 94 minutes, there are misunderstandings and mildly confusing plot twists and turns -- hallmarks of any Coen movie.

"You have to be ahead of the audience in terms of what they think of the plot and how it develops," Joel said. "It's a kind of a farce, and you have to become involved."

"Farce is a good way of looking at it," Ethan chipped in. "It builds itself up in terms of its complicatedness and its ridiculousness."

The comedy had its world premiere in Venice last month to mixed reviews. Todd McCarthy of show business newspaper Daily Variety called it "a film that feels misjudged from the opening scene and only occasionally hits the right note."

Kirk Honeycutt of rival The Hollywood Reporter had a different take, saying the Coens "clearly are in a prankish mood, knocking out a minor piece of silliness with all the trappings of an A-list studio movie."

The brothers say undisputed star power is likely to matter more to fans than what the critics say, as audiences race to see Hollywood idol Pitt in his unfamiliar role as a loser.

The movie opens around North America on September 12.

(Reporting by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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