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Burn After Reading (2008)

R  |   |  Comedy, Crime, Drama  |  12 September 2008 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 234,834 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.




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



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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:

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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?


The Coen Brothers and their long-time composer, Carter Burwell, decided that the movie should have a bombastic music score that suggested 'meaning without meaning' and chose Jerry Goldsmith's percussive music for Seven Days in May (1964), as its chief inspiration. See more »


When Harry is out running the sweat mark nearly covers the entire back of his shirt. When he walks into the house after his run the mark is much smaller. See more »


Chad Feldheimer: [on the phone] Osbourne Cox? I thought you might be worried... about the security... of your shit.
See more »

Crazy Credits

A female attorney handled 'Serious Matters' See more »


References The Ladykillers (2004) See more »


Written by William Mays (as Bill Mays)
Performed by William Mays (as Bill Mays), Martin Wind & Matt Wilson
Courtesy of Palmetto Records Inc.
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

I hate to say this, but "Meh."
27 October 2008 | by (Australia) – See all my reviews

I have heard it said that a good film has no bad scenes and four good ones. Well, 'Burn After Reading' has no bad scenes... and no really good ones either.

The film was consistently amusing, and kept me interested enough to want to see what happens next. The ending was not predictable, nor was it entirely unsatisfactory. Never once did the film insult my intelligence or presume upon me to care for a character without providing sufficient reason. These are all good things. But while we're talking about things this film never did, never once did this "comedy" amuse me enough to actually consider it "funny".

Now, that's not good at all.

As has been pointed out in the consistently funny comic 'Calvin and Hobbes', there is more to 'good' than the mere absence of evil. So while, unlike almost every other film I've ever seen, 'Burn After Reading' has no flaws or niggly little bits where I'm left thinking how I'd do things differently, it doesn't have any particularly good bits either, and has ultimately left me underwhelmed.

It's like we've had some sort of yin-yang trade-off, where by removing the bad we have unwittingly eliminated the good, stranding the film in limbo for eternity.

So, did 'Burn After Reading' amuse me? Yes, I was amused, though I never once laughed out loud.

Do I regret seeing it? Not really. It kept me interested for 90 minutes, which is more than I can say for a lot of other films out there.

Was it a good film? My feelings here are truly mixed, though ultimately I'd have to say "I don't think so".

I'm guessing that critics are going crazy over this film because it doesn't make any of the irritating mistakes that plague so many other films. The story is solid with no plot holes or overt clichés, the characters are well written and consistent, it never talks down to the audience, the acting is great and so is the directing.

Now, as a point of comparison I'd like you to consider 'Open Season'. This aimated film was flawed at many levels, from sluggish direction to uninspired writing and miscast actors. But in addition to this there were at least half a dozen really funny bits in it.

My point here is that while much of 'Open Season' was regrettable, at least I laughed six times. Which is six more times than I laughed during 'Burn After Reading'. As a result, I remember 'Open Season' much more fondly, despite it being the inferior film in almost every way.

In conclusion, 'Burn After Reading' just isn't exciting or funny enough to cut any sort of mustard, and so we have a film that a lot can be learned from, both in what to and not to do when making a film.

I mean, seriously. My prevailing feeling with regard to 'Burn After Reading' is one of apathy. That's never good.

342 of 647 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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