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Burn After Reading (2008)

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A disk containing mysterious information from a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous and daft gym employees who attempt to sell it.




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Nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Another 5 wins & 27 nominations. See more awards »



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


Osbourne Cox, a Balkan expert, resigned from the CIA because of a drinking problem, 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 CD-ROM 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 cosmetic 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


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 USA:

$19,128,001, 14 September 2008, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$60,355,347, 25 December 2008

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$163,720,069, 25 December 2008
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film within the film, "Coming Up Daisy", according to the poster, stars Claire Danes. See more »


When Osborne returns home after being served for divorce, he tries to enter his home with a car key not a house key. See more »


Harry Pfarrer: Ya wanna come downstairs? Ya like surprises?
Linda Litzke: [cheerful] Well, I'm always open to new experiences.
Harry Pfarrer: [walking downstairs] Yeah, I tell ya. I saw an ad for this in a gentlemen's magazine. Twelve hundred bucks. I'm lookin' at this thing and I think, 'You gotta be kiddin' me.' I'm a hobbyist. Thing's basically nothing but speed rails. I figure I'd go down to Home Depot and whip this up myself for... a hundred bucks.
Linda Litzke: What is it?
Harry Pfarrer: What is it?
[pats the seat of the mechanism]
Harry Pfarrer: You sit down there, make ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

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


References Fargo (1996) See more »


Day After Day (Royal Appt Remix)
Written by Tiff McGinnis (as T.McGinnis)
Performed by Tiff McGinnis (as Crazy Girl)
Courtesy of Tummy Touch Records LLC
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Tonight We Laugh
11 September 2008 | by See all my reviews

Norman Cousins would have loved the Coen Brothers' "Burn After Reading." The late great Saturday Review editor had treated his illness with Marx Brothers movies, having "made the joyous discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep."

I have never felt healthier than after 96 minutes of explosive and grateful laughter at the "Burn" screening, also marveling at the array of British-stage caliber acting from "Fargo"-invoking Frances McDormand, witchy-icy Tilda Swinton, a more-manic-than-ever John Malkovich, and a dozen major players, such as J.K. Simmons as the deadpan CIA boss and Richard Jenkins as the former Greek Orthodox priest, now running an upscale gym.

Others may lead the cast list with George Clooney and Brad Pitt, but to me, their performances were just a bit on the self-conscious side, trying too hard. At any rate, it's a great cast, and while the plot might have turned into a dud in somebody else's treatment, the Coen Brothers' writing is hilarious, their zingers deadly.

A critic, probably with bad digestion, has decried this "very black comedy set in a blanched, austere-looking Washington, D.C. — an uninspiring and uncomfortable place in which everyone betrays everyone else, and the emotional tone veers from icy politeness to spitting rage and back again." If I had a chance to think, instead of enjoying "Burn," I would have contemplated Molière and Evelyn Waugh, their comedies of manners, psychological insight, and unbridled great humor.

Yes, there are betrayals (none better than the totally unexpected one at the end of the film), and there is rage, but all contained within a glorious bubble of writing-directing-acting excellence. "Burn" grips and holds, surprises and entertains, it is a virtuoso piece.

Don't be misled by the a "action-trailer" on TV, saturating the airwaves; it says nothing of the film. Malkovich punching Pitt over a compromising CD of spook stuff is not at the heart of this - the McDormand character's pursuit of cosmetic surgery is, what with her self-examination, a lengthy session with the surgeon (Jeffrey DeMunn, in a brilliant turn), her desperate quest for a way to pay for it. Funny and going deep at the same time, "Burn" presents a series of character studies (hence the thought of Molière), in the context of mannered yet true social interactions (Waugh).

Skip descriptions of the plot, reject self-righteous denunciations of smart skepticism and charming evil, go and wallow in life-affirming laughter.

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