Burn After Reading (2008)

burn after reading poster 2008 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Fun and light, anti-spy spy movie

Not as deep as some of Coen Bros other films

Movie Info

Movie Name: Burn After Reading

Studio: Focus Features

Genre(s): Comedy/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  August 27, 2008 (Venice Film Festival)/September 12, 2008 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

burn after reading george clooney frances mcdormand

I’m not paranoid…you’re paranoid

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is out of a job at the CIA and has decided to write his memoires.  When Cox’s cheating wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) decides to seek a divorce to be with paranoid, married Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), she makes a copy of Cox’s finances and unwittingly a copy of the memoires which falls into the hands of Hardbodies gym workers Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) who think the files could be their ticket to a big payday…there are eyes everywhere and everyone’s number could be up!

Written, produced, and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Burn After Reading is a comedy spy thriller.  Following No Country for Old Men in 2007, the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and received mostly positive reviews.

I remember when Burn After Reading was released, the reviews weren’t bad, but they weren’t the stellar scores that No Country for Old Men scored…and critics wanted that again.  I skipped Burn After Reading as a result, but having finally seen it, I think it is a fun, light jaunt with classic Coen humor.

burn after reading brad pitt closet scene

Just remember if you ever break into George Clooney’s place that even Brad Pitt’s smiling face cannot woo him…

The story is a puzzle, and like other Coen movies in the vein of Fargo, it is about people ruining their lives due to their vices.  None of this had to happen, but lust, greed, envy, pride, gluttony, and almost every sin ends up corrupting the group.  Unlike Fargo, one person walks away with what they want…and the bad behavior pays off (at the cost of multiple lives).  Does it equal out?  No…and that is the humor of the movie (that and the bigger fact that the government and spy agencies just don’t care).

The cast is great.  Frances McDormand has a little of her Fargo character in Linda, but it is largely a flipside to her because greed and pride have her willing to sell secrets to the Russians.  John Malkovich is rather typical Malkovich (the role was for him), and George Clooney plays a rather vapid male bimbo.  Tilda Swinton might not be in the best relationship, but she should know better than to trust Clooney’s character (and you never get a real idea what happened to her).  The real star has to be Brad Pitt who’s dim Chad was rather out of character at the time.  I also love David Rasche and J.K. Simmons and the CIA agents trying to make sense of everything that is happening.

burn after reading john malkovich

I’ve been inside my own head…I’m not afraid to shoot anyone

The movie is slick and an odd spy “thriller” in that there are very little explosive events.  This ties into the fact it is an anti-spy spy movie that is almost mocking the idea of covert operations and secret spying technology…it is people that put too much stock in the CIA’s abilities and concerns.

Burn After Reading was a fun watch, but it wasn’t the deepest Coen Bros. movie I’ve ever seen.  I like that the Coen Bros. often alternate between more drama based filmed and more comedic films and this generally showcases their talent.  If you haven’t seen Burn After Reading, it is a fun ride that has some surprises built in.  The Coens followed Burn After Reading with A Serious Man in 2009.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response