7.0/10
289,946
602 user 352 critic

Burn After Reading (2008)

Trailer
1:47 | Trailer

Watch Now

From $3.99 on Prime Video

ON DISC
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
Reviews
Popularity
1,012 ( 106)

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 »

Videos

Photos

Learn more

More Like This 

Adventure | Comedy | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 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
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
True Grit (2010)
Drama | Western
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A stubborn teenager enlists the help of a tough U.S. Marshal to track down her father's murderer.

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
Barton Fink (1991)
Comedy | Drama | Thriller
    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
Comedy | Drama | Music
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman
Comedy | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

When a childless couple of an ex-con and an ex-cop decide to help themselves to one of another family's quintuplets, their lives become more complicated than they anticipated.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Comedy | Drama | Music
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio's stars in line.

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

Tom Regan, an advisor to a Prohibition-era crime boss, tries to keep the peace between warring mobs but gets caught in divided loyalties.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, John Turturro
Fargo (1996)
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

Jerry Lundegaard's inept crime falls apart due to his and his henchmen's bungling and the persistent police work of the quite pregnant Marge Gunderson.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi
Blood Simple (1984)
Crime | Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya
Comedy | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire of the same name, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 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
Edit

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 Palmer DeBakey Smith
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
Edit

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:

Intelligence is relative. See more »


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

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

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
Edit

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 »

Edit

Box Office

Budget:

$37,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$19,128,001, 14 September 2008

Gross USA:

$60,355,347

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$163,720,069
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 »
Edit

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

When Osbourne Cox receives his notice of insufficient funds, as he looks at the paper, it clearly says "We recently we received..." Clearly whoever typed up the paper was torn between using the word 'recently' or 'received', and, after deciding on one of them, forgot to remove the other. See more »

Quotes

Osbourne Cox: And you're my wife's lover?
Ted Treffon: [shaking his head] No.
Osbourne Cox: Then what are you doing here?
[pause]
Osbourne Cox: I know you. You're the guy from the gym.
Ted Treffon: I'm not here representing HardBodies.
Osbourne Cox: Oh, yes. I know very well what you represent.
[pause]
Osbourne Cox: You represent the idiocy of today.
Ted Treffon: No, I don't represent that either.
[...]
See more »

Crazy Credits

A female attorney handled 'Serious Matters' See more »


Soundtracks

Judy
(2002)
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

See more »

User Reviews

 
Not what I expected: dark, over-the-top, hilarious but surprisingly poignant
18 October 2008 | by Monotreme02See all my reviews

The Coen Brothers are an interesting pair, there's no doubt about that. Just as they did back in the 1980's with their debut and sophomore films, the Coens chose to follow up their most heavy-handed and serious film since Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men, with a nutty, over-the-top screwball black comedy. But unlike their second film, Raising Arizona, the Coens deliver Burn After Reading with a kind of newfound cynicism attached to it; it's funny, but it's also surprisingly dark and sad, and even poignant to some extent.

Based on the Coen's first wholly original screenplay since 2001's The Man Who Wasn't There, Burn After Reading features a plethora of classic Coen staples: repetitive (and brilliant) dialogue employing a strange and almost poetic use of curse words, a multifaceted plot featuring slightly dim-witted characters in way over their heads, blacker-than-the-night comedy, over-the-top performances from a pool of actors featuring recurring collaborators and newcomers to the Coen clan alike, and to tie it all off, a lesson-learning conclusion in which nothing ends up being learned at all. It's wonderful how the Coens complicate the plot so much only to round it all off perfectly in the end. Like all of their films, Burn After Reading is a carefully calculated dance in which every pause, every stutter and every camera move is planned in advance.

What I loved most about the movie is trying to get into the Coen's heads and see what they think is funny. What's for sure is that the brothers have the most unique sense of humour in Hollywood; superficially, it seems as if most of the film's comedy derives from over-the-top slapstick/screwball antics and bleak, black comedic situations and visual gags, but in reality Burn After Reading's comedy is a lot subtler than that. As I already mentioned, this is a film in which every twitch and stutter is calculated; fittingly, this is the real source of the film's hilarity, in the actors' facial expressions, subtleties, and delivery of the lines. It's great to think, for instance, that the Coens probably thought that applying a booming, ominous drum-dominated "epic"-type musical score to the movie in the style of a Tony Scott action-thriller would be absolutely hilarious, and that's just one example of the many jokes in the movie that just soar right over your head. In addition, I think that the Coen Brothers are probably the most talented employers of curse words in Hollywood. Many directors are familiar with the colourful phrases, some more than others, but only the Coens know how to make various S- and F- words utterly sidesplitting.

Blessed with one of the more impressive ensemble casts of any film this year, Burn After Reading inevitably features a plethora of good acting. Surprisingly good acting, actually, proving I suppose that the Coen's didn't really mean for this to be a total farce but do reach out for a little something more. Frances McDormand, George Clooney and John Malkovich all deliver fantastically colourful, over-the-top performances, but each of their characters also has an added level of sadness and poignancy to them that adds a little something more than physical comedy to the actors' performances: McDormand with her almost tragic loneliness and obsession with cosmetic surgery, along with her equally tragic ignorance of those around her that do appreciate her for what she is; Clooney with an equal amount of loneliness and desperation, and an undeniable air of incompetence abound him, suggesting that his mediocre job is probably the best he can get; and Malkovich, with his alcoholism and acute superiority complex. Tilda Swinton and the ever-great Richard Jenkins are a lot subtler than their higher-billed co-stars, and Brad Pitt delivers the only truly one-hundred percent cartoon performance in the film; thought despite its emptiness it's also the most enjoyable and completely hilarious.

J.K. Simmons I reserve for last; he only appears in two scenes in the film, but they are undoubtedly and by far the funniest and most successful scenes of the film. Props to him for admirably succeeding in carrying the Coen's hilarity to another level of deadpan comedy.

The Coen Brothers have an interesting sense of humour, and it is present up front and center in their latest film. Just the concept of following up a serious drama-thriller like No Country for Old Men with an over-the-top screwball black comedy probably seemed hilarious to them. Featuring great, uproarious performances from a stellar ensemble cast, the Coens really give it their all with their offbeat, so-subtle-half-the-jokes-soar-over-your-head comedy. And yet, the film occasionally does manage to reach out a little further from its apparent genre limitations and provides us with something more poignant and truthfully sad. It's even somewhat startling just how dark the movie gets and how cruel the Coens are to their characters. It wasn't quite what I expected, but then again, that's the Coen Brothers for you.


21 of 36 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 602 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Free Movies and TV Shows to Watch Now

On IMDb TV, you can catch Hollywood hits and popular TV series at no cost. Select any poster below to play the movie, totally free!

Browse all our free movies and TV series

Stream Trending TV Series With Prime Video

Explore popular and recently added TV series available to stream now with Prime Video.

Start your free trial



Recently Viewed