Up 118 this week

Burn After Reading (2008)

R  |   |  Comedy, Crime, Drama  |  12 September 2008 (USA)
Your rating:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -/10 X  
Ratings: 7.0/10 from 234,824 users   Metascore: 63/100
Reviews: 539 user | 334 critic | 37 from Metacritic.com

A disk containing the memoirs of a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous gym employees who attempt to sell it.




Watch Trailer
0Check in

Watch Now

From $2.99 on Amazon Video

Nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Another 4 wins & 22 nominations. See more awards »



Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Comedy | Crime | Music
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

In the deep south during the 1930s, three escaped convicts search for hidden treasure while a relentless lawman pursues them.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson
True Grit (2010)
Adventure | Drama | Western
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn teenager track down her father's murderer.

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A laconic, chain-smoking barber blackmails his wife's boss and lover for money to invest in dry cleaning, but his plan goes terribly wrong.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco
Barton Fink (1991)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A renowned New York playwright is enticed to California to write for the movies and discovers the hellish truth of Hollywood.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis
A Serious Man (2009)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

Larry Gopnik, a Midwestern physics teacher, watches his life unravel over multiple sudden incidents. Though seeking meaning and answers amidst his turmoils, he seems to keep sinking.

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Lennick
Blood Wedding (1981)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Director: Carlos Saura
Stars: Antonio Gades, Cristina Hoyos, Juan Antonio Jiménez
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  

After the bankruptcy of their father's stonemasonry firm, brothers Nicola and Andrea emigrate to America to restore their fortunes. After many adventures and near-disasters, they end up in ... See full summary »

Directors: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani
Stars: Vincent Spano, Joaquim de Almeida, Greta Scacchi
On Tour (2010)
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

Joachim, a former Parisian television producer had left everything behind - his children, friends, enemies, lovers and regrets - to start a new life in America. He comes back with a team of... See full summary »

Director: Mathieu Amalric
Stars: Miranda Colclasure, Suzanne Ramsey, Dirty Martini
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A doomed love between a paper merchant and a courtesan.

Director: Masahiro Shinoda
Stars: Kichiemon Nakamura, Shima Iwashita, Shizue Kawarazaki
Comedy | Fantasy | Horror
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7/10 X  

An American businessman's family convinces him to buy a Scottish castle and disassemble it to ship it to America brick by brick, where it will be put it back together. The castle though is ... See full summary »

Director: René Clair
Stars: Robert Donat, Jean Parker, Eugene Pallette
Codine (1963)
Crime | Drama | Music
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

An ex-convict struggles to survive by brute force alone in a turn-of-the-century slum in Braila. Codine (Alexandre Virgil Platon) is the thug who served 10 years for murdering a friend. He ... See full summary »

Director: Henri Colpi
Stars: Alexandru Virgil Platon, Razvan Petrescu, Françoise Brion
Trotta (1971)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Director: Johannes Schaaf
Stars: András Bálint, Rosemarie Fendel, Doris Kunstmann


Cast overview, first billed only:
CIA Superior (as JK Simmons)
J.R. Horne ...
Divorce Lawyer (as JR Horne)


Osbourne Cox, a Balkan expert, is fired at the CIA, so he begins a memoir. His wife wants a divorce and expects her lover, Harry, a philandering State Department marshal, to leave his wife. A diskette falls out of a gym bag at a Georgetown fitness center. Two employees there try to turn it into cash: Linda, who wants money for elective surgery, and Chad, an amiable goof. Information on the disc leads them to Osbourne who rejects their sales pitch; then they visit the Russian embassy. To sweeten the pot, they decide they need more of Osbourne's secrets. Meanwhile, Linda's boss likes her, and Harry's wife leaves for a book tour. All roads lead to Osbourne's house. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

memoir | gym | cia | embassy | divorce | See All (137) »


Intelligence is only their job. See more »


Comedy | Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:

| |  »


| |


Release Date:

12 September 2008 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Quémese después de leerse  »

Box Office


$37,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$19,128,001 (USA) (12 September 2008)


$60,338,891 (USA) (19 December 2008)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Excluding the end credits' song, the F-word and its derivatives is used 62 times, mostly by Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) and Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), including 6 times in the first 2 minutes. See more »


The CIA Supervisor states that Venezuela does not have an extradition treaty with the US. Venezuela has had a bilateral extradition treaty with the US since 1923. See more »


Krapotkin: Madam, you are mistaken. I'm Assistant Cultural Attaché. The organs of State Security are not allowed to function within the borders of your country.
Linda Litzke: Organs?
See more »

Crazy Credits

As usual, the Coen Brothers edited this film under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes See more »


Featured in The 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards (2009) See more »


Born Free
Written by John Barry and Don Black
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

The Coens' funniest film since "The Big Lebowski"
12 September 2008 | by (prejudicemadeplausible.wordpress.com) – See all my reviews

I'm not the only one to notice the pattern in the Coens' filmography: "Blood Simple." was followed by "Raising Arizona", "Fargo" by "The Big Lebowski", and "No Country for Old Men" by "Burn After Reading". The main concern one had about this film is whether it would be an "Intolerable Cruelty" or a "Big Lebowski" for the Coens. Let's put it this way: the reviews have been mixed, especially from major mainstream media critics. Guess what other Coen comedy received mixed reviews and was accused of being a somewhat tired mess? Yep, "The Big Lebowski".

The Coens' sense of humor is very distinctive, and I'm not talking about stuff like "Intolerable Cruelty" (this one the mainstream media liked, go figure) and "The Ladykillers", which featured numerous commercial concessions. I'm talking about the vicious, cruel, misanthropic farce that gets self-important critics' knickers in a twist. Describing "Burn After Reading" as a screwball spy farce makes it sound much more "Austin Powers" than it is. There is a lot of silliness, but the sort of silliness one finds in a Howard Hawks comedy, not in most comedies that have been made recently. It's a screwball comedy but a pretty dark one.

This is most certainly an acquired taste. It is not going to go down well with people who can't laugh at murder, things going terribly wrong for innocent people, or the Cones' trademark dialogue that pops up even in 'serious' movies like "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men". However, "Burn After Reading" was seemingly tailor-made for my cruel sense of humor, as I found it to be easily the most inspired comedy script in a long time. It's a conspiracy espionage thriller with no stakes, nothing to fight over, a bunch of complete fools and idiots caught in the middle of it ("a league of morons" if you listen to John Malkovich's character), and disastrous consequences for just about everyone. Take out the jokes and you could have a tragedy but as it stands this is the funniest movie the Coens have made since "The Big Lebowski", if not the best, and that includes "O Brother, Where Art Thou?".

One really shouldn't know anything about the plot or how it unfolds prior to seeing it, as this is a film which is far more intricately-plotted than most critics are giving it credit for. The basic concept is that Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt's characters come across a disc they think contains top secret intelligence. What follows is, as described above, a thriller with no stakes and a bunch of idiots. It's one of those movies where you really shouldn't be laughing (for ethical reasons) but are, and it will have you laughing through your disapproval for basically the entirety of the film after the opening fifteen minutes or so, which are rough in comparison to the rest of the film, and to be honest the only thing that keeps this film from being absolutely brilliant and the Coens' best movie since "Lebowski". Just don't go in expecting a movie that looks as beautiful as many of their movies do- Lubezki is no Deakins, at least not based on his work here, and the Coens are very clearly attempting to emulate in many ways the look of the sort of thriller they're basing this on. It's functional, well-shot, and well-directed, but the writing and acting are the main attractions here.

Of course, "Burn After Reading" will be dismissed as having little worth and for being a disposable farce by many. Well, if only they knew how hard it is to do comedy well. I'd reckon this was harder to write than the (admittedly tremendous) "No Country for Old Men", which was adapted from a novel that might as well have been a screenplay if formatted correctly. The movie may not start brilliantly (not that it isn't good even early on), but once the Coens start firing on all cylinders they never stop, and the dream cast certainly doesn't either (Brad Pitt has a smaller role than most cast members here, but he is absolutely brilliant in the role), showing tremendous comic skill that few would have guessed most of them had. The final scene may very well be one of the best I have seen in a long, long time.

"What a clusterf-ck!", indeed.


377 of 583 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
The ending... davidmiller822
Based on Wizard of Oz Characters? meekins-brian
How many times did you laugh? Eric_Thompsan
How Stupid Do the Coens Think We Are? giarmomatthew
What don't people like about this movie? psychedelically
Is Osborne Cox the biggest a-hole in movie history? trivial_matt
Discuss Burn After Reading (2008) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page