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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.

Directors:

Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Writers:

Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
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Popularity
1,927 ( 63)

A Guide to the Films of the Coen Brothers

From Blood Simple to the new The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we take a look at the offbeat stylings of Academy Award-winners Joel and Ethan Coen.

Dude, let's go bowling

Nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Another 8 wins & 29 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
George Clooney ... Harry Pfarrer
Frances McDormand ... Linda Litzke
Brad Pitt ... Chad Feldheimer
John Malkovich ... Osborne Cox
Tilda Swinton ... Katie Cox
Richard Jenkins ... Ted
Elizabeth Marvel ... Sandy Pfarrer
David Rasche ... CIA Officer
J.K. Simmons ... CIA Superior (as JK Simmons)
Olek Krupa ... Krapotkin
Michael Countryman ... Alan
Kevin Sussman ... Tuchman Marsh Man
J.R. Horne J.R. Horne ... Divorce Lawyer (as JR Horne)
Hamilton Clancy ... Peck
Armand Schultz ... Olson
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

A high stakes love life and Jewel CIA shelter. See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

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

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official Facebook | Official site

Country:

USA | UK | France

Language:

English

Release Date:

12 September 2008 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Burn After Reading See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$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 IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

SDDS | Dolby Digital | DTS

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

On the Criterion Blu-ray of Blood Simple (1984), in "Shooting Blood Simple" featurette with Barry Sonnenfeld, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen reveal that the joke involving the sex chair built by Harry Pfarrer was taken directly from key grip Tom Prophet Jr., who built a very similar device in real life, and cited the exact same reasons as Harry. See more »

Goofs

In the final scene with Linda, in which she's being picked up by the CIA, an agent pulls alongside her on the right. In the second shot depicting him, the car is in the same spot, in a traffic lane (not parked), but the shifter is in the Park position. See more »

Quotes

CIA Superior: What a clusterfuck!
See more »

Crazy Credits

A female attorney handled 'Serious Matters' See more »

Connections

Featured in WatchMojo: Top 10 Headshots in Movies (2015) See more »

Soundtracks

Moon Over Western River
Traditional
Performed by Wei-min Ying (as Xiao Ying)
Courtesy of ARC Music Productions International Limited
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Tonight We Laugh
11 September 2008 | by janos451See 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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