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Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading

3.1 43
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand


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Joel and Ethan Coen's jet-black comedy Burn After Reading begins with CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) losing his job. This prompts his long-suffering, unfaithful wife (Tilda Swinton) to consult a lawyer about divorcing him. Osborne decides to write a book about his exploits, but an early draft of his work ends up lost at a gym where it's found by the dim


Joel and Ethan Coen's jet-black comedy Burn After Reading begins with CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) losing his job. This prompts his long-suffering, unfaithful wife (Tilda Swinton) to consult a lawyer about divorcing him. Osborne decides to write a book about his exploits, but an early draft of his work ends up lost at a gym where it's found by the dim-witted Chad (Brad Pitt, and the plastic-surgery obsessed Linda (Frances McDormand). They decide to blackmail Osborne in order to help Linda pay for the numerous procedures she wants to undergo. Things grow even more complicated when Linda starts an affair with Harry (George Clooney), who also happens to be sleeping with Cox's wife.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Perry Seibert
The opening shot of the Coen Brothers' new black comedy Burn After Reading takes the viewer from outer space to inside CIA headquarters. The last shot takes us out of that building, back up into space. This device makes it clear that Joel and Ethan are playing God. They have devised a shaggy dog tale where almost every single person acts only in their own self-interest, and nobody gets away unscathed. It's the darkest comedy they've made since Barton Fink, and it might be mistaken for a work of genuine misanthropy if it wasn't so funny. The complicated -- but never confusing -- plot begins when CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) learns from his boss that he is being demoted. Cox quits in a fit of pique, all the while throwing F-bombs around with comfort and authority -- like a Princeton-educated Scorsese gangster. The language, as well as the fact that characters are always saying Osborne's last name, make it clear that right from the beginning that vulgarity is one of the movie's major themes. Upon learning of his unemployment, Cox's wife (Tilda Swinton) hires a lawyer to begin divorce proceedings, a move that eventually leads to a lost CD that may contain sensitive state secrets. That information comes into the hands of Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged woman who needs lots of money in order to reinvent herself with massive amounts of plastic surgery; and her dim best friend, Chad, played with wonderful comic timing by Brad Pitt. Chad swears just as often as Cox does, but for very different reasons. Where Cox's profanity reveals his boundless sense of superiority, Chad simply knows no better way to express himself. When Chad meets face to face with Cox to blackmail him, it's a hilarious clash between an idiot and an a-hole. It would be unfair to reveal how inveterate womanizer Harry (George Clooney) -- and his newest invention -- figure into the plot, because watching this story unfold is so much fun. The movie is written like a screwball comedy, but it's paced like a drama. When audiences might expect the film to build a head of steam like the last half-hour of Raising Arizona, the Coen Brothers refuse to play along. It would appear that they are interested in something more than a straightforward comedy; all of the characters are morally ugly, a fact underscored by the movie's anti-glamorous look -- there is a prominent lack of makeup on just about everybody. The film is populated with realistic grotesques whose selfish, vulgar actions have ramifications that extend far beyond their myopic self-interest. The movie works as a silly R-rated comedy to be sure, but it does have the kick of an adult Grimm Brothers fairy tale with a moral about what awaits those who behave very badly. In its own way, Burn After Reading is as despairing a film about human beings as No Country for Old Men, it just happens to be full of belly laughs rather than existential angst.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Focus Features
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Finding the Burn - The Making of Burn After Reading; ; DC Insiders Run Amock - An all-star cast creates the world of Washington, DC, insiders all trying to get ahead or find true love.; ; Welcome Back, George - This comedy piece features Mr. Clooney as he returns for his third collaboration with Ethan and Joel

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
George Clooney Harry Pfarrer
Frances McDormand Linda Litzke
John Malkovich Osborne Cox
Tilda Swinton Katie Cox
Brad Pitt Chad Feldheimer
Richard Jenkins Ted Treffon
Elizabeth Marvel Sandy Pfarrer
David Rasche CIA Officer
J.K. Simmons CIA Superior
Jeffrey DeMunn Cosmetic Surgeon
Hamilton Clancy Peck
Olek Krupa Krapotkin
Michael Countryman Alan
Kevin Sussman Tuchman Marsh Man
J.R. Horne Divorce Lawyer
Armand Schultz Olson
Pun Bandhu Party Guest
Karla Mosley Party Guest
Richard Poe Stretching Gym Patron
Dermot Mulroney Star of 'Coming Up Daisy'

Technical Credits
Joel Coen Director,Producer,Screenwriter
Ethan Coen Director,Producer,Screenwriter
Tim Bevan Executive Producer
Carter Burwell Score Composer
Ellen Chenoweth Casting
David Diliberto Associate Producer
Eric Fellner Executive Producer
Jess Gonchor Production Designer
Robert Graf Executive Producer
Roderick Jaynes Editor
Peter Kurland Sound/Sound Designer
Emmanuel Lubezki Cinematographer
David Swayze Art Director
Mary Zophres Costumes/Costume Designer

Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Burn After Reading
1. You're Out (Main Titles) [3:56]
2. About Us [4:13]
3. Explosive Memoir [6:52]
4. Elective Procedures [5:48]
5. Fun & Games [4:41]
6. Raw Intelligence [5:15]
7. Good Samaritan [6:29]
8. Point of No Return [5:41]
9. Consequences [3:23]
10. Interesting Secrets [3:12]
11. New Experiences [3:50]
12. Served & Witnessed [2:36]
13. Under Surveillance [:44]
14. Trapped [3:32]
15. Messy & Complicated [4:59]
16. Grow Up! [5:38]
17. Insufficient Funds [5:03]
18. The Idiocy Of Today [5:31]
19. What Did We Learn? [6:27]
20. End Titles [2:52]


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Burn After Reading 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Mike_S-85 More than 1 year ago
The Cohen Brothers' Burn After Reading is a twisted hilarious movie worth watching. Set around a woman who wants plastic surgery and a ex-CIA agent who loses his disk containing his manuscript for his book. What really makes the movie good is the off colored humor, plot twists, and unexpected ending.

The whole movie is filled with the off colored humor of the Cohen Brothers, from beginning to end. The Cohen Brothers use this off colored humor to bring about situational comedy to portray the woman's life and the situations that arise from her and her co-workers finding the ex-CIA agent's disk. The use of sexual innuendos can also be considered 'off color'.

When watching this movie one doesn't really know what to expect because of the plot twists. The woman and her co-worker want the ex-CIA agent to pay them for finding his disk, he assumes that they are trying to blackmail him. Instead of just returning the disk the woman and her co-work try selling the disk to the Russians. The Cohen Brothers keep the twists coming.

The ending was the best of all. It was completely unexpected and totally off colored, some would consider it inappropriate. When all is said and done the CIA agency didn't really know what to say nor did they really understand what had happened. Their solution was funniest of all.

Over all this movie was filled with laughs and surprises. It does not have a run-of-the-mill plot where one can predict what is going to happen. Burn After Reading is worth the money to purchase on DVD.
SleepDreamWrite More than 1 year ago
Heard a lot about this. This was weird, kind of funny at times and again a little weird. Best part in the movie is Brad Pitt.
adamgn More than 1 year ago
A dark and hilarious comedy from the Coen Brothers. Not a traditional comedy and hard from people to watch. There are no redeeming characters in this movie -- which usually makes a movie unwatchable. But the script is so funny and the actors are so talented, it all seems to come together. For me at least. I know a lot of folks did not like this movie, but I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'd like to start my review by saying I am a huge fan of the Coen brothers work. I feel they have made some of the most important and brilliant cinema of the last 30 years. That being said, they have, in the past decade or so made three of the weakest films in their cannon. The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty, and now Burn After Reading were each borderline unwatchable, and each for different reasons. Burn After Reading had a lot going for it in it's cast and score. However, what could have been a genius twisty plot like only the Coens can write turns out to be a plodding and ultimately flat and unsatifying waste of everyone's talents. There were no redeeming qualities in any of the major characters. Now, that was the idea, and selfishness was a major theme in the movie. But I was unable to connect or even care about what happens to any of them. And once I realized that none of these individuals meant anything to me, or each other for that matter, I was gone. It's a shame this wasn't a more lively outing because of the promise of the premise. Instead, Burn After Reading was an exercise in emotional minimalism and boring subtlety. Bummer, man...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Escapism and fun, Brad Pitt shows he has a fun side. It was what I expected but not great movie.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
despite what people like mike-s85 say, (off color? must have been the word(s) of the day) this film was absolutely absurd. what were the cohen brothers smoking? i actually saw this film @ the theatre and wanted a refund. & that fact that it ends so abruptly made a bad film even worse!!! some people might argue that this film is for the more sophisticated viewer however i beg to differ. dont waste your time! if i could give this film negative stars i would!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every actor did a great job to make this movie funny. There were some twists but easy to figure out as you watched it. You didn't know why everything happened until the end and that made it funnier.
NY_Reader1 More than 1 year ago
The Coen Brothers make movies that we are supposed to like because they are smart, witty and the cinematic equivalent of a complex Cabernet Sauvignon. I say to this: Huh?

This movie was an insult. It was overacted and underwritten. It was a clever premise that ran out of steam in about 20 minutes. Brad Pitt was funny only because he was playing a goofball. John Malovich played true to type as a raging lunatic. George Clooney was - well, George Clooney. He more or less walks through most of his movies playing the charming everyday guy.

I hate movies that have an abrupt ending, and this one rewarded my diligence of sitting through the whole movie by just ending cold. it was a classic case of a "what just happened" movie. I honestly thought my DVD jumped ahead over a chapter or two.

Coen fans will rent or buy this because they are Coen fans, but shouldn't a movie stand on its own merits, not its pedigree?

if you want to own a Coen movie, buy Fargo. They should have retired after they made that one.
Julie-LosAngeles More than 1 year ago
It's definitely worth it. I highly recommend Burn After Reading
EmilyJaneEN More than 1 year ago
i thought this movie would be soo very funny but it was a huge dissapointment!!!!! my mom and I both thought this movie sucked we didn't even finish the movie we just turned it off becuase the whole movie sucked soo much
SalgalNY More than 1 year ago
This is a funny movie, but has a lot of foul language in it, and some risque scenes.
albrtfn More than 1 year ago
The Coen Brothers are at it again in this unforgettably funny film. The star-studded cast is great, and each actor has a supremely unique character to boot. The dark humor and outrageous circumstances are what make this movie great. Oddly enough the funniest parts occur around what would normally be shocking or traumatic in a serious movie. I can't wait for this one to come to DVD and Blu-Ray.
al8085 More than 1 year ago
I returned this item and am waiting foer a credit.
mascaroml More than 1 year ago
I was actually quite disappointed with this movie. The impression gleaned from the previews was that Burn After Reading was a comedic masterpiece. When the credits start to roll, however, the viewer is left with disappointment. Not to suggest that the movie didn¿t have its few moments, but a few laughs does not a comedy make.

The performances of individual characters were good, by and large. However, the failures of the plot give the actors little opportunity to shine. I wouldn¿t suggest anyone buy this movie. If you have the opportunity to borrow it from a friend, however, it might not be too bad to watch it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This has got to be one of the most confusing and funny movies I've ever seen. it's definately the kind of movie where after you watch it, you kind of find yourself just sitting there wondering what just happened! but it is very funny, definately a movie I've watched more than once and recommeneded to friends. it has that dry, sick sense of humor you don't really find anymore.
larouge More than 1 year ago
The old saw is that God looks after drunks and simpletons, and in this movie he/she definitely does hold Frances McDiarmid's character protectively close to the cosmic bosom; and though she is undoubtedly the funniest character in this movie, the joke's on everyone else, including Brad Pitt. This is not a movie that edifies the soul or lifts the spirit, but it is fantastic, in the classical sense, and funny, straight on and in offbeat fashion, and just the medicine for a rainy day, outside, or in the heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a disappointment! Someone at Entertainment Weekly named this one of the 10 best movies of 2008, but my tastes are obviously different. This film was a lot of silliness and violence without much point. See "Fargo" or "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" and skip this waste of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The brothers Coen follow up their Oscar winning No Country for Old Men with this profanely dark comedy that is not nearly as fun as a whole as it is in parts. Starts off as quirky and loopy as one expects from a Coen comedy, but gets violent and bloody toward the end . . . needlessly. There is a funny, but gross, homage to Fargo at the finale! Some of the performances are great, but Clooney and Malkovich come dangerously close to overacting, chewing the scenerey with gusto. McDormand brings a nice humanity to the film, and Pitt looks like he's having the time of his life . . . but, in the end, what is the point?
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