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Burn After Reading (2008)

A movie directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

< read all 14 reviews

A throw-away effort by the Coen Brothers, but Tilda Swinton takes the prize for unlikable funniness

  • Jul 14, 2011
Rating:
+2
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 to pull the rug from under the audience, but they've populated their tale with characters that are interchangeable cardboard cutouts. The characters may look different and sound different, and may even appeal a little because of the cleverness of their unlikability, but they all dance to the same tune...the Coen Brothers patented polka that can be mighty engaging at times, but can also become as condescending as a Saturday Night Live skit.
 
If a director and a writer have any respect for their audience, they don't behave as if the audience is just part of the joke...the dumb patsy everyone else will snigger at for being taken in by that shaggy dog. If Marge Gunderson had turned out to be the shallow, constant butt-of-a-joke that Linda Litzke is, Fargo would never have been a great movie, just a show-off film filled with nothing but black humor and technique. With Burn After Reading there's no one likable except a guy who gets his with an axe. Even the Coen Brothers' technique seems to fail them. Burn After Reading, for me, just lurches from one set piece to the next. Half way through we realize nothing is going to get better, nothing is going to change, and the deaths, body disposal issues, black humor and CIA insouciance are going to be tiresome and predictable.
 
Brad Pitt received a lot of press for his performance, and why not? But I'll give my award to Tilda Swinton. For my money she was the only person who managed to be both true to her character (e.g., a boob or unlikable, and in Swinton's case, unlikable) and yet amusing in her unlikability. She's first rate. Wish the movie had been. To see Swinton at her most sympathetic, watch her in Young Adam and The Deep End.
A throw-away effort by the Coen Brothers, but Tilda Swinton takes the prize for unlikable funniness A throw-away effort by the Coen Brothers, but Tilda Swinton takes the prize for unlikable funniness

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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 . 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
Quick Tip by . July 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Coen brothers are the master of surprises, and Burn After Reading definitely had some surprises I hadn't expected. An amazing cast for great film
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #17
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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Wiki

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 ...
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Details

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
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