Movie Hype
New Releases, Oscar-Winners and Obscure Movies!
Burn After Reading (2008)

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

< read all 14 reviews

Don't bother "reading"/watching in the first place -- totally disappointing

  • Mar 23, 2010
Pros: The way Brad Pitt drinks water

Cons: Everything else

The Bottom Line:

There is no reason to consider this film no matter how much you may like any of the people involved.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Only use a command like “Burn” in your film’s title if you are sure the film is good enough for most audiences to consider the title ironic. Burn After Reading was a very poor title for a very weak movie. It would be a bad film no matter the writer and director, but when Joel and Ethan Coen are responsible, it just makes the movie that much more disappointing.

Senior CIA agent Osborne Cox is fired because he has a drinking problem. With nothing else to do, he decides to write his memoirs. His wife, Katie, decides to use his dismissal as an excuse to divorce him. Her attorney suggests she be as underhanded as possible in getting Cox’s financial information. Among the information she turns over is a CD of Cox’s notes for his memoir. The legal secretary responsible for cataloging the information accidentally loses the disk in the locker room of her gym. The gym’s assistant manager, Linda, and personal trainer, Chad find the disk. They believe what they have is secret information and decide to use it to blackmail Cox or sell it to the Russians, whichever turns up the most money fast. Linda wants the cash to pay for a long list of plastic surgeries she hopes will cure her of her self-esteem issues; Chad’s involved mainly just for funzies.

Katie has been having an affair with Harry whom she plans to marry when her divorce goes through. That bit is further complicated, however, by the fact that Harry is also married and having an additional affair with the same Linda who is playing both blackmailer and spy. Harry, Linda, and Chad are all bumbling stooges and their attempts at criminal and emotional subterfuge end up creating more than one bloody corpse.

Burn After Reading is just not funny. To my mind, it really never had the potential of being more than just mildly amusing. The biggest problem is that the characters don’t really work. The Coxes are not, or intended to be, funny characters. They exist essentially to put raw data through the joke-engine for Harry, Linda, and Chad. The result is the comedic version of the garbage-in/garbage-out paradigm. Instead of a farcical comedy of errors like Raising Arizona, it is just a silly movie of two-dimensional opportunists that are pathetic and embarrassing instead of foppishly funny. I didn’t like any of them and didn’t buy the motives that drove any of their interactions. Two A+ list writers/directors sketched a story on the back of a napkin so that 5 A+ actors and several notable character actors can waste their collective time, by and large.

John Malkovich seriously overplays Osborne. He tries to shove something akin to the wronged King Lear into a small part meant only for utility; it is very jarring. George Clooney, Harry, is an unholy mix of Ulysses Everett McGill (O Brother Where Art Thou and the eponymous Michael Clayton; the result is spastic. Francis McDormand’s Linda is just flat pitiful and humorless and I got the impression she was playing as if still in a dress rehearsal. Tilda Swinton (the reason I decided to watch it at all) plays her limited part well, but anyone could do it—in other words, in this respect I was roundly disappointed. The only actor/character combination that worked was Brad Pitt as Chad. Chad is a pretentious fitness instructor and slapstick idiot and Mr. Pitt puts in the right amount of funny to make his character the only believable one.

The plotline intersects are poorly handled and a couple of them seem tacked on and incomplete. Linda and Chad as blackmailers and Harry and Katie’s affairs are the only necessary plotlines. To make the full story work, each of these lines need to cross, but should only have to do that once. Instead, Harry hooks up with Linda. This relationship adds about fifteen minutes to the film for what seems to be one very bad and very telescoped punch line. It’s the only explanation I have for the unnecessary subplot. It also adds the opportunity for Harry to show Linda a particularly rococo sex toy. He only shows it once, it is never used, it never appears again, leaving me to believe it might have been an incomplete edit of a longer sequence. Likewise, Linda and Chad attempting to sell Cox’s memoirs to the Russians misses the mark. Instead of an analogue to the absurdly funny recording studio scenes in O Brother Where Art Thou it’s just flat, plain stupid. The quick thumbnail is that the film is sloppy and careless.

There is absolutely no reason to consider watching it, even if you’re sick and it’s on cable. Seriously.


What did you think of this review?

Fun to Read
Post a Comment
More Burn After Reading (2008 movie... reviews
review by . April 15, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
After a mid-career dip, the CB are back! Burn represents the second consecutive strong showing, coming on the heals of their best ever No Country for Old Men. Burn isn't their best ever, but it is a return to their roots, and to what made them good.    The BL (Before Lebowski) movies were a tour of the classic genres of the Great Age of cinema, centered around the theme of identity:    Blood Simple was a great noir debut about misunderstanding identity.  Raising …
review by . June 25, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
They say good things come in twos, and I can’t think of a more fitting justification for this platitude than the varied body of work that is the Coen brothers’ film repertoire. Time and time again, the duo has tickled our funny bones while offering that something extra for the finicky tastes of moviegoers whose palates desire a little “oomph”.      That being said,      I hated Burn After Reading.      I mean, I …
review by . July 14, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A throw-away effort by the Coen Brothers, but Tilda Swinton takes the prize for unlikable funniness
If you enjoy sour shaggy dog stories told for the enjoyment of clever, sour people, you might like Burn After Reading...a shaggy dog story if there ever was one. It takes the easy target of Washington's shallow denizens and mixes them into the equally easy targets of CIA paranoia and serial infidelities. And all these denizens, with one possible exception, are either numbskull boobs or nasty boobs.       The Coens have given us not only a sour shaggy dog story, designed …
review by . August 16, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I would call myself a fan of the Coen Brothers. A pretty big fan actually. Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? are among my favourite films of all time, and I'm a huge admirer of their darker offerings like Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, No Country For Old Men and Blood Simple. Therefore, I sat down to watch Burn After Reading with great expectations. Those expectations even seemed justified by the clips I'd seen and the things I'd read about …
review by . July 17, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
BAR is directed by the talented Cohen brothers and offers up a cast with some quality talent like Richard Jenkins and Frances McDormand. It also starred Pitt and Clooney but I'm afraid I have been soured on that Big Screen partnership by the deteriorating Oceans franchise, I mean come on, each progressive sequel sunk deeper and deeper down.     The plot is amusingly nuts and convoluted:   Osbourne Cox, a Balkan expert, is fired at the CIA, so he starts a memoir. His wife …
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Coen Brother's zany comic follow up to No Country For Old Men has wacky goins on in DC with an alcohalic and his frosty wife, a philanthripist and his ornery wife and two dim gym employees getting mixed up over a lame MacGuffin. Maybe not a classic, but worth watching once.
Quick Tip by . August 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Coen Bros lately give us characters to care about briefly. Then they die. This is wearing thin. Their satirical schtick feels increasingly bitter rather than entertaining, and this film shows their smug insularity. A few moments such as the deadpan CIA suits as they converse hit their mark, but the actors seem as worn out as their convoluted storylines now.
Quick Tip by . August 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Intriguing and amusing at times, but overall, I could barely keep myself focused on the screen.
Quick Tip by . August 03, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A little disappointed with this one, great cast but expected a little more.
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Very Underrated. One of the funniest movies I have seen lately
About the reviewer
Paul Savage ()
Ranked #30
I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
Consider the Source

Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.

Your ratings:
rate more to improve this
About this movie


With their overtly comedic follow-up BURN AFTER READING, the Coen Brothers return--about a third of the way--from the dark, dank recesses of the human psyche they traversed in their Oscar-winning NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. For those unfamiliar with the landscape of modern movie psychoanalysis, this puts the fraternal filmmakers square in the cruel, misanthropic, and farcical realm of their 1990s-era body of work, somewhere between the tragicomic crime thriller of FARGO and the disconnected noir-homage anti-storytelling of THE BIG LEBOWSKI, with 2007's NO COUNTRY retroactively adding new nihilism-tinged dimensions of smart skepticism to the proceedings. In a more linear trajectory, BURN AFTER READING also stands as the third entry, after BLOOD SIMPLE and FARGO, in what could be an unofficial Tragedy of Human Idiocy trilogy, wherein characters make the most outlandishly moronic moves to devastating consequences simply by adhering to true human behavior. Indeed, Carter Burwell's emotionally weighty score, whic...

After the dark brilliance ofNo Country for Old Men,Burn After Readingmay seem like a trifle, but few filmmakers elevate the trivial to art quite like Joel and Ethan Coen. Inspired by Stansfield Turner'sBurn Before Reading, the comically convoluted plot clicks into gear when the CIA gives analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) the boot. Little does Cox know his wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton, riffing on herMichael Claytoncharacter), is seeing married federal marshal ...
view wiki


Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genre: Comedy
Release Date: September 12, 2008
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
DVD Release Date: December 21, 2008
Runtime: 96 minutes
Studio: Universal Studios
Polls with this movie
Barton Fink

Coen Brother Classics


First to Review

"Pretty Great"
© 2014, LLC All Rights Reserved - Relevant reviews by real people.
Movie Hype is part of the Network - Get this on your site
This is you!
Ranked #
Last login
Member since