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The Coens' funniest film since "The Big Lebowski"
ametaphysicalshark12 September 2008
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.

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A Bright American Farce
katiemeyer197913 September 2008
Nobody is quite there in this new bright farce by the Coen brothers. The plot is a smart excuse for a movie about nothing but appearing to be about a lot of things. Going backwards and forwards at the same time. Talk about "The Russians?" or planning to write a memoir. Brad Pitt is priceless and the innocence of his character is so believable that I wondered how many more surprises this actor has up his sleeve. He is a joy. George Clooney is also terrific and the Coens move through their crossed purposes with speed and elegance. I was totally immerse in their universe even if I didn't quite care what was going on. John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins and the unnerving Tilda Swinton complete the package of this movie that feels as if it was made for the sheer pleasure of it.
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Very funny adult comedy
tomrito14 September 2008
The point here is that this movie is for adults, with adult themes and adult situations. As with all Coen brother movies, there are going to be people who love it and people that hate it. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground. I loved this movie. It was entertaining, dark and very funny. I really liked "No Country for Old Men" but I have to say, "Burn After Reading" was a more enjoyable film for me. Some of the reviews here have said that the film rambles around pointlessly, without any clear direction; well I have to disagree, if you are paying attention and you are an adult, you should have no problem understanding what is going on. The best part of the movie is watching this great cast perform brilliantly with the odd-ball material they are given. They are all straight men for the Coen brother's antics. There is violence, bad language, and everyone is sleeping with everyone else, especially George Clooney. But the movie is very funny and while the rest of Hollywood seems to have lost there way, the Coen brothers continue to put out intelligent, entertaining and thought provoking material.
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More "Big Lebowski" Than "Intolerable Cruelty" -- thankfully
erica-22410 September 2008
BURN AFTER READING is laugh-out-loud funny. It's more "Big Lebowski" than "Intolerable Cruelty," though there are wisps of both, but "Burn" is not quite up to Lebowski's genius. Still, it is very, very funny and loads of fun.

From the opening moments, the Coens' latest movie -- a spy-thriller spoof -- hurls the viewer on a hilarious romp through Absurd-land. What better place to set such a story than Washington, DC?

The story involves a demoted government worker (John Malkovich) who finds himself the target of an extortion scheme by two gym workers, riotously played by Frances McDormand (a would-be gym bunny if only she could afford some plastic surgery) and Brad Pitt (a high-energy, arm-thrusting, hip-shaking fitness trainer-cum-"good Samaritan" who lands himself way in over his head). The romp soon turns dark.

As usual, the Coens' dialog is a real treat. When a co-worker points to Malkovich's alcohol problems as a reason for his demotion, Malkovich retorts, "You're a Mormon. Next to you we all have a drinking problem." And as usual in Coen-land, there's a clash between high and low brow. Malkovich's pronunciations of "mem-wahhh" for "memoir" is a hoot, and his correction of Pitt's mistaken "report" for "rapport" propels a conflict between classes and types -- symbols of a society in trouble, whose priorities are askew.

As in the Coen brothers' 1987 box-office hit RAISING ARIZONA, obsessions fuel the plot, though this time it's body (not baby) obsession. McDormand is hellbent on getting expensive elective surgery to "reinvent" herself. Pitt is a workout addict, who can barely stop moving long enough to think straight. And George Clooney, who can only stop talking when it's time to go running or jump into bed with someone, plays a G-man fixated on sex. Notions of "intelligence" and all that the word connotes (along with its antonyms) mix into the film's dark comedic brew of unintended consequences.

Where does it go? I don't want to give away any of the twists to answer that question in depth. But I would disagree with the critics who claim it doesn't go anywhere. The movie and its over-the-top, needless violence show how secretive missions even by bumbling know-nothings (whose only knowledge of undercover ops seems to come from spy flicks) can have disastrous outcomes. Secrets in Washington? Sure sounds like a topic we should all be better versed in.

  • Erica Rowell Author: The Brothers Grim: The Films of Ethan and Joel Coen http://www.amazon.com/Brothers-Grim-Films-Ethan-Joel/dp/0810858509
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Confusing but great comedy
peterkettle-904-4447174 October 2018
What do you do when you come across a weird movie with great credentials; a film which you can't quite wrench your way out of? And a movie from the Coens no less... I'm talking about Burn After Reading, and it's probably the best film I've never understood. After making one of the best chase movies ever - and one of the BEST ever movies in any genre - in cinema history, No Country For Old Men, the Coens turned back to comedy; they seem to do this often. And what they also did was typical; they approached some of the best actors in the world and threw them into this great spooks movie. It's as if some demented chef was running a fast food franchise joint, and is convinced it's the best restaurant in the known world. Malkovich, Dormand, Pitt, Clooney, Swinton, J K Simmons and Richard Jenkins deliver a pitch perfect screwball script, and that potent skill base delivers the viewer a richly satisfying comedy. Ain't we lucky. I shall have to buy this on Blu-ray!
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An Intelligent. Quirky, Surreal Delight
gary-44417 October 2008
This film will not be to everyones taste, and I wholly understand the polarised responses.A star studded cast enjoy a knowing, wordy script, where dialogue counts, a Coen brothers trademark.However not very much happens, and the narrative is disjointed, so the pace of the story is very staccato.But once again the result is something very wide of the Hollywood mainstream and is all the more satisfying for it.

A 95 minute running time,, and several separate but interwoven plots, mean that screen time for individual actors is limited. Consequently each shines in their given roles, relishing the word play and eking the maximum out of each situation.No scene is dwelled upon, and the occasional bloody outburst of violence, or titillating appearance of a Sybian machine , is shown then moved on from before you have time to work out exactly what is going on.

The script is littered with double entendres, "running gags (pun intended)and lines aimed straight at the audience from the screen. No-one knows what is going on, or what has gone on, or what is going to happen, and is all the better for it.A mini-masterpiece.
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Great Movie, Full of Originality and Dark Humor
sgtcupcake22 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I felt like I needed to review this movie because it has been largely misunderstood by many of the reviewers on this site. First off, this is not a movie that is going to show you everything and baby step you through the plot. (Children please leave now, this is an adult movie)

Part of the reason why I enjoyed this movie so much is because it engages you as the viewer by forcing you to consider all the event that are happening. Trying to piece all the randomness together and make sense of all the events unfolding in front of you is one of the best aspects of the movie. (shocking as it may be we are forced to use our brains!). Even though the majority of the characters appear to have nothing in common and no real relationship with each other, their true connections lie in their actions. George Clooney's invisible threads for instance touch pretty much every single character in the movie even if there is no real interaction between them. There is a deep underlying theme of betrayal and a "big brother" complex which many of the characters develop or exhibit throughout the movie.

As far as the acting goes each actor plays their role very well and I think that some viewers were disappointed because they were expecting a more developed Brad Pitt / George Clooney relationship as is the case with most of their movies. As for the humor, it lies in a darker corner underneath the character dialogue. This film makes best use of what I would like to call "situational comedy". (Like taking the "classified information" to the Russians (The embassy!) so that they could collect some sort of reward). The brief scenes with the CIA are quite amusing as they mostly sit on the sidelines throughout the movie and clean up after the mess which is left behind after the seemingly simple firing of one Mr. Cox.

I am always pleasantly surprised by how original this movie was and how it almost makes fun of all the stereotypical Hollywood bull**** that is filled with most movies today. One of the ways you can tell a movie is good is if you watch it multiple times and still find something new or amusing in the story each time.

Bottom-line: If you are looking for a story that is more than skin deep (which the Coen brother are notorious for) then you have come to the right place. For everyone else where thinking hurts your head, go watch the new Transformers Movie.

** On a side note** To the one reviewer who thinks Clooney shoots Brad out of no where, if you had actually bothered to pay attention during the movie you could see that when Clooney opens the closet the first thing he grabs for is his gun hanging on the wall. Then because of his yeeaars of service as an air marshal his training kicks in and out of instinct he shoots before he thinks. (This may be also partly due to his paranoia of being followed by spooks)
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Lunchbag Letdown
taustad-115 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
It makes me sad that, with such great actors to work with, the best the Coens could do is make a mish-mash comedy/drama/horror that was lukewarm at best and boring at its worst. I felt sorry for the actors; they had so little of interest to say or do. I almost fell asleep about 20 minutes in. Where was the madcap screwball comedy? Where was the dark ironic humor? It was all just one-dimensional darkness. Where was the good editing? (i.e. we never saw Clooney holding the gun but we know he shot Pitt in the closet.) Instead we get pointless, morose and dull. This movie coulda been a contender. These characthers coulda been somebody. Instead they're really just forgettable. And that's just a waste.
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Another Hit from the genius of the Coens.
swlabr4134 September 2008
There's a point in this movie that George Clooney's character, Harry Pfarrer shows Frances McDormand's character Linda Litzke something that we've seen him working on for about half the movie. It was so surprising when I first saw it, that at first, I didn't even know what it was.

Once again, the Coens have created wonderful characters, including Clooney, who is a womanizer and paranoid that people are following him, and McDormand, who just wants plastic surgery in order to look better. Also, there's John Malkovich as Osbourne Cox, who "doesn't have a drinking problem," and maybe the best in the movie, Brad Pitt as Chad, a clueless gym employee who is pushed along by McDormand.

The only character that isn't up to par with the rest is Tilda Swinton's character of Katie Cox, Osbourne's wife. She doesn't get as many laughs as the rest, and it seems like the Coens just needed her as a plot device rather than an actual character. However, she may not be funny, but she does play the character well.

The writing is brilliant and the Coens weave the story in such a way that it reminds me of their previous movie, The Big Lebowski. In the end, as J.K. Simmons character sums it up himself, nothing really happens, but while watching it all unfold, you can't help but laugh at the absurdity.
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Tonight We Laugh
janos45111 September 2008
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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If you don't have anything good to say, "F" it.
LupinsGal200426 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The one pet peeve I have is when the writing is bad they start throwing in bad language hoping it will get a laugh. I'm sorry but I think if you took out every "F" bomb dropped in this movie... there'd be no dialogue.

The movie was disjointed... I know some movies are meant to be avant guard... but even those weird artsy movies make SOME sense. There were too many things going on, it seemed at times even the actors didn't know what scene they were involved in.

The plot between the Linda and her boss was just stupid and misplayed by the writers. And just when you think there's FINALLY going to be something amusing... they "SHOCK" you back into realizing the movie sucks.

The whole movie was a boring yawn fest. I'm not sure what so many people saw in this film. I felt like burning the movie projector after watching! And the ending, don't get me started... definitely not worth even the matinée prices.

The only thing I liked about this movie was Sledge Hammer star David Rasche, and only because it gave me a Sledge Hammer flashback.

I love George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and I usually like the Coen brothers... but this is one movie I wouldn't even wait till it came on DVD for. Just avoid it.
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Forget After Viewing
jandcmcq1 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
After thoroughly enjoying Fargo, I came to this well reviewed movie with as lot of expectation and left very disappointed.

I remember seeing the "Trouble with Harry" which seems like a million years ago but still remember laughing my head off. It had characters that seemed real, a ridiculous but interwoven plot that somehow was hilariously credible and side splitting humor all the way though.

"Burn after Reading" had none of that. Some of the overacting was atrocious especially from Pitt and McDormand and to be honest Pitt's exit from the film came none too soon. There was little plot structure and some branches ran off into in-explicable dead ends. The only characters I found worth watching were Malkovich who tried to inject some life into it, the sincere gym manager who contrary to Pitt deserved some more lines and the dry humor of the intelligence agents. The Coens really love violence. Maybe they should try making a movie without it. I felt in this one it was only there to relieve the boredom.
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The Coen Brothers don't make bad movies - they don't know how :)
G_a_l_i_n_a15 September 2008
After their Oscar winning turn last year, The Coen Brothers are back with the new film, this time comedy/crime/spy story which is very funny, very dark, quite angry, at times surreal, always ironic and to put it simply a must see for any Coens' fan which means a fan of great movie making. Comparing to the last year's Oscar Winner, No Country for Old Men, their new film may seem much lighter and provides many laughs. But keep in mind, it is comedy: Coens' style and it means that not always the most likable characters get what they look for. As much as the film is funny, it actually paints very disturbing picture about stupidly, idiocy, incompetence, inability to see one step ahead of your actions that keep filling every aspect of our existence with dangerous speed. I loved it - from the very first scene to the end. I laughed a lot, enjoyed the dialogs and the acting. How could I not with the dream cast that include John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Francis McDormand, and very funny and deliciously clueless, Brad Pitt, and many familiar faces in the small cameos. George Clooney who has made three films with The Coens got the funniest scenes, and gave IMO one of his best performances. John Malkovich has got to come out of his semi-retirement and act more. His every appearance in the film as forced to quit his job, very angry CIA Analyst who then decided to write a memoir, was a blast. Tilda Swinton as an arrogant icy cold professional woman, and Frances MacDormand as Linda who would stop at nothing in order to "re-invent herself", both added to the film's multiple delights.

This time, Coens' usual collaborator, Roger Deakins was not director of photography, instead, Emmanuel Lubezki, four times Oscar Nominee (for Children of Men, The New World, Sleepy Hollow, and A Little Princess) took care of camera-work. The film has very beautiful look to it, and I was happy to recognize some of my favorite places in Washington, DC and George Town.
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Burn Before Watching
Bolesroor10 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The Coen Brothers' "Burn After Reading" is a movie so thoughtless, so arrogant, and so poorly executed that it has forced me to re-consider my opinion of their previous films and seriously raised the question of whether they've been frauds all along.

Joel & Ethan C. have always had an "offbeat" sense of humor and an "unusual" way of making movies, but fans like myself have always reasoned they were simply following their Muse and making the movies they had to make. With "Burn After Reading" they present us with an espionage "spoof" whose sense of humor is on par with that of the world's worst rejected sitcom pilot, and you have to wonder: Is this what they've truly been all along?

Brad Pitt, George Clooney & Frances McDormand all star as Themselves; no attempt is made at building characters or adhering to any storyline reality. Brad dances because he likes to dance, George panics because it worked well in "O Brother." The "plot" is ostensibly about amateurs entering the spy game with comedic results, but it breaks down so fast and so completely it's not even worth mentioning.

No matter how many times McDormand blinks cute and begs us to remember Fargo's Marge there's no hiding the fact that the finished product here looks as if there was NO development done whatsoever. The movie feels like Joel & Ethan thought it would be a lark and filmed the whole deal in a week with a digital camera. The garbage that resulted is the death of cinema: Hollywood home videos with million dollar paychecks.

I reserve the F grade for movies that are beyond bad… movies that have somehow crossed the line between respectable failure and offensive insult. If you like movies you'll avoid this one, and if you like the Coen Brothers you won't after witnessing the crime they commit here. Stay far away.

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Ham-Fisted Performances, Poor Plotting, Labored Jokes, and Sudden Lapses of Violence
zardoz-1326 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"No Country for Old Men" directors Joel and Ethan Coen's uneven, overwrought, misanthropic comedy of errors "Burn After Reading" should have been burned after they made it. Remember, the Coen Brothers won the 2008 Best Picture Oscar for their inspired but violent account of an indestructible hit-man who methodically tracked down his victims and killed them without a qualm. As their first feature since "No Country for Old Men, "Burn After Reading" radiates barely a modicum of the customary Coen luminosity. The fourteenth movie that the two brothers have helmed together struggles to be as side-splitting as either "The Big Lebowski" or "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou." Instead, this forgettable farce turns out to be as mirthless as two previous Coen misfires "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Intolerable Cruelty." "Burn After Reading" opens like a Tom Clancy techno-thriller. An orbiting spy satellite camera zooms into the Chesapeake Bay area on the East Coast, penetrates the cloud cover and pinpoints C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. A bow-tied, bald-headed, Princeton-educated, career C.I.A. analyst, Osborne 'Ozzie' Cox (John Malkovich of "Being John Malkovich"), explodes with rage when his boss (David Rasche of "An Innocent Man") relieves him of his duties on the Balkans desk and shuffles him off to a lower security grade State Department post. The volatile Cox spews profanity when his colleagues attribute his inferior job performance to alcoholism. Cox quits the C.I.A. rather than being reassigned. As he storms out of the room, he vows to pen a tell-all memoir. Later, every time we see Ozzie working on his memoirs, he clutches a drink in his fist.

The scene shifts to Hardbodies Fitness Center. Personal trainer Linda Litzke (Oscar-winning Frances McDormand of "Fargo") plans to have a number of surgical cosmetic procedures performed on her flabby physique. "I have gone as far as I can with this body," she whines to her plastic surgeon. She is looking for somebody to date on the Internet and she hates her appearance. When her company insurance refuses to cover these elective operations, Linda blows a gasket. Although she isn't pleased with herself, her Hardbodies boss Ted (Richard Jenkins of "Step Brothers") drools whenever he is around her. Linda calls him her friend and then all but ignores him. Another Hardbodies trainer, bimbo-brained Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt of "Ocean's Twelve") who wears his iPod like jewelry, discovers an anonymous computer disc left in the ladies locker room that contains Ozzie's C.I.A. secrets. Against Ted's wishes, Linda and Chad blackmail Ozzie for $50-thousand dollars so Linda can pay for her four procedures. Meanwhile, Ozzie's ice princess of a wife Katie (Oscar winning Tilda Swinton of "Michael Clayton") indulges in an extramarital fling with a married but philandering U.S. Marshal Harry Pfarrer (a bearded George Clooney of "Leatherheads") who constructs mechanical sex machines in his spare time. Pfarrer is married to a successful children's author, Sally (Elizabeth Marvel), who hates the dinner parties that Harry takes her to at Katie's house. Not surprisingly, Ozzie refuses to pay Linda and Chad a dime so Linda approaches officials in the Russian Embassy. Meanwhile, Katie locks Ozzie out of their house and begins divorce proceedings.

Ensemble piece that it is, "Burn After Reading" meanders from one quirky character's complications to another in a haphazard manner. The Coen's erratic script for this farcical but violent yarn about a group of largely unsavory dimwits that make moronic fools of themselves seethes with irony. Surprisingly, the Coens seem to have taken leave of their comic senses because their sophisticated humor falls flat on its face. Moreover, in their efforts to drum up laughs, co-stars Brad Pitt and George Clooney deliver performances that verge on epilepsy. Tilda Swinton is particularly rude and hostile as a pediatrician with the bedside manner of a crocodile. She has no problem bossing around either Ozzie or Harry, but she cannot get a child to take its medicine. Pathetic, selfish, delusional cretins populate "Burn After Reading" and they refuse to accept reality. For example, Linda believes that if you think positive thoughts that positive things will happen. Indeed, this eclectic gallery of characters qualifies more as caricatures. Since we feel little sympathy toward them, the trials and tribulations that they endure to attain their goals rarely prompts anything more than a smirk or two.

Ultimately, "Burn After Reading" devotes more time to infidelity rather than of espionage. This hyperactive but less-than-hilarious hokum qualifies as a failure on multiple levels. Ham-fisted performances, poor plotting, labored jokes, and sudden lapses of violence spoil what might have been a neat little bit of nothing.
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The Coen's Bastard Film
DarthVoorhees8 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Inevitably an excellent filmmaker or in Joel and Ethan's case, filmmakers will make a bad film. Joel and Ethan have enjoyed so much success and have made so many great films that they would be allowed a poor film. 'Burn After Reading' shook my faith in the Coen Brothers whom I greatly admire. It isn't just bad it's jaw droopingly awful. It's 'I want my rental fee back' bad. It's maybe I forget 'Big Lebowski' or 'O, Brother Where Art Thou?' and skip your next comedy bad. Skip this film at all costs. Forget the name Coen is on the box, because the Joel and Ethan Coen I've seen must have shut themselves off when they made this piece of work.

What could be unfunny? Everything. I laughed maybe once in the film and it was more of a "Really?" laugh (I think you'll infer that the scene was where George Clooney's Harry showcases his "chair") I didn't necessarily find it all that funny but it was a curve ball laugh. The Coen Brothers have always had droll humor. I've greatly enjoyed their earlier comedic efforts. Here it is just sad to watch. It gets to a point where the film seems downright pretentious. That's a low that the Coens never reached before. Their films have always been very smart but they included the audience in it. I just couldn't go with them with 'Burn After Reading'. I knew all the punchlines the Coens were setting up and where the laugh track might sound but none of these scenes were very funny. Joel and Ethan are brave enough to set up a scene where the 'punchline' is Brad Pitt getting shot in the head. It isn't funny. There are two instances of quirky humor being supplied with violence. I laughed at this in their 'Ladykillers' (which many did not like but I really enjoyed), but here it just seems grim and depressing. Everything in the film is far too tongue in cheek but when you have people getting killed and a serious tone it doesn't work.

The biggest problem with the film is it's characters. I don't think the Coens have been given a better cast to work with in terms of talent. None of the characters are allowed to be given life because there is no detail to them. We get very broad ideas about them but nothing to engage us. The character who suffers the most from this is George Clooney's Harry. I think he had the most potential but he is really given an inadequate amount of screen time. He is obviously a sex addict but we don't know why or how he got these insecurities about having relationships. Clooney is eccentric sure but it would have gotten more response from the audience if we knew why. Frances McDormand's performance is the best in the film and it is so despite the script. She is obviously aging and insecure but the Coen Brothers don't really tell you this in their script. McDormand has to bring it out in the subtle of her performance. All the Coens give us is that she is single and concerned about her looks. What McDormand does is carry this character on her own in a decent performance.

Much is made about everyone being unlikeable in the film. The fact is I couldn't care one way or the other if the characters are unlikeable, in fact I'd prefer that they weren't. The problem is these characters have no real personality. These very talented actors are playing for emotion and mood. I can't describe the performances. They are over the top in a surprisingly restrained way. I can very easily imagine the Coen's telling George Clooney and crew to "quirk it up". It seems like that. If the Coens had written better characters I have no doubt that this excellent cast would have organically gone and created the kind of characters the Coen's love. Joel and Ethan take a gamble and expect their great cast to save a garbage script, they don't collect.

I don't hate the Coen Brothers, on the contrary it is because of my great respect for them that I am so hard on this film. The last thing any filmmaker needs is blind praise. It seems like 'Burn After Reading' received a great deal of blind praise.
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Burn Before Watching.... Spoiler That May save you 10$ backs and 2 hours of your life
Homerman50017 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This has to be the lamest attempt at a movie plot in the Cohen brothers' career. This movie attracted viewers solely on their name alone. Brad Pitt was the shining jewel in this travesty and he gets the ax, BY ACCIDENT!!! Who the puck cares about Linda's 4 part surgery. It's just to make herself feel better? She was obviously too ignorant to realize that she looked beautiful to those around her and it wasn't like it was a necessary or life saving procedure. Ozzy Cox was totally on the rebound after the shyt hits the fan with his wife divorcing him and what does he get? A COMA. Nice. He could have dished out some vengeance on those succeeding in make his life hell but NO. Everyone is sleeping with everyone which connects people unknowingly yet no one really gets found out. Thank you for movie tension that goes nowhere. The Russians waste even more time by telling the dimwitted protagonists that their information on Cox is ultimately useless. Scenes of Clooney building his "Mystery Machine" kills you slowly when its only to find out that its a "Sit on it and Go Puck Yourself" Machine. Literally!!! The chair he secretively builds has a pucking dildo in it that goes up and down as the occupant, I imagine, moves back and forth while seated. OM-F-G HILARIOUS!!! If I'm gonna shell out 10 clams i should walk away from the the theater going, "Dam, that was a good movie!! I can't wait to talk about it with my friends!" Not, " Why the did i pay to see that? It might as well have been a movie length commercial." To be Honest, I happened to thoroughly enjoy the Cohen brothers work and they had yet to disappoint until i saw this skid mark of a film. Watching this is like "peeling your bark" without "falling a tree". You sit there, hacking away at waves of build up and tension, waiting for the climax to make sense of all this and NO. All you get is a cramp in your hand and a hole in your wallet where a 10 spot used to be. Meanwhile, The Cohen Brothers are laughing all the way to the bank. I know some of you reading this may totally disagree. Fair enough. All I know is that I wasn't the only one NOT laughing in the theater. And yes i know it wasn't supposed to be a comedy. But that's the only thing this movie had going for it and even that was scarce. Comparatively, No Country For Old Men was fantastic. If they were gonna do drama, do it like that. And The Big Lebowski was hysterical! If they wanted to do a comedy, they nailed it right on the head with that one. Even that movie had awkward situations that involved bumbling idiots who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and yet everyone walks away a little wiser and a lesson learned. But mix the 2 and you get an abortion of a film that is the one I'm trying to save you from watching. The point of a good movie, no matter what genre, should be that the viewer walks away WITH something. In this case, Run the hell away cause you ain't getting shyt. Now go buy a dime and thank me for helping you make a better investment than a ticket to this fecal filled feature of phucked uptitude. NEXT!!!
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The Coen brothers did it again !
marco_n6528 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I saw the film at the 65th Venice Film Festival yesterday. The red carpet was a huge attraction of course with Brad Pitt and George Clooney. I'm not surprised to tell you that the Coens will not disappoint any fans with Burn After Reading.

Two gym employees(Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) find a computer disc containing Osbourne Cox's (John Malkovic) CIA informations and they try to get money from him.

Original story, awesome cast, great direction, many hilarious moments, marvelous acting and highly unpredictable actions are at the rendez-vous.

Though the movie is a bit short (95min.), Burn After Reading is a very enjoyable film that you won't soon forget. **** out of 5
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A Movie which is like Math
acg_Pangea13 September 2010
There is a idea that great movies come from Hollywood once in a blue moon. If it's true, Burn After Reading is definitely one of them. It makes you scare, it makes you thrill moreover - this might be awkward- it makes you also laugh. All these are mixed in a scenario which I haven't seen so creative for awhile. It's like a math problem. And just like it, your mind working through the movie. Keeping guess that who's dealing who. I recommend this movie especially for crime movie lovers. They will find unique tastes from it but even if you are not a fan of genre, it doesn't matter because either way, you'll watch a movie which has been dished up

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Occam's razor
ChuckSchick2 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Really liked this movie based on its simplicity of its characters and plot.

Lots of people expected action and drama cause it had major Hollywood stars. The great thing about this movie is it felt so real to watch broken characters engaging other broken characters with real life problems like job washout, aging, adultery and best of all entitlement.

All the characters felt very real and all were flawed to a point you weren't rooting for anyone. Very rare and refreshing just to sit back and watch.

What I took away from this flick was the fact the Big Government really had no idea what the hell was going on and Hollywood loves to make Big Government the all knowing enemy. The last 2:50 of this movie rank up there with great Coen brothers endings.

I feel people wanted more Hollywood which like usual they didn't do.
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Another Coen private joke
neil-47630 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I have had mixed feelings about the Coen brothers for some time. For me, their movies fall into two distinct categories. There are those which I have enjoyed - Fargo, Lebowski. And there are those where I have felt that a good idea has become inaccessible to the audience (ie. me) because it is excessively dressed up in the brothers' private sense of humour (Hudsucker, O Brother).

Burn After Reading joins the latter group.

The idea - assorted misadventures concerning a revealing autobiography written by a disgruntled ex-CIA operative - is great, and would work as either a screwball black comedy or a thriller. Burn After Reading is clearly intended to be a comedy, but the comedy (as is so often the case with the Coens) remains somewhat inscrutable. It's like the couple of kids in your class at school who would laugh uproariously at some private joke which completely passed by everybody else.

It's a shame this is so, because at least two of the performances are screamingly funny - JK Simmonds as a befuddled CIA executive and, especially, Brad Pitt as a terminally dim personal trainer. Richard Jenkins delivers a touching portrayal of a man who desperately loves Frances McDormand's character but is completely at a loss as to what to do about it, and Tilda Swinton gives us an ice queen. These performances belong in two other films - both are excellent, but neither is even slightly funny. Nor, for that matter, are the two savage on-screen killings, although I distinctly got the feeling that both are meant to be hilarious. Malkovich chews the scenery and looks like a cartoon.

Which brings us to Frances McDormand. She is the central character, playing a shallow woman with tunnel vision as far as raising the money for cosmetic surgery is concerned. I like Frances McDormand, and I think she is an excellent actress, but I strongly feel that she was miscast in this movie. A fading bimbo is what was needed, and Miss McDormand is not a fading bimbo. Her marriage to Joel Coen may have had a bearing on her casting.

I wish I shared the Coens' sense of humour - I would have enjoyed this more.
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Not what I expected: dark, over-the-top, hilarious but surprisingly poignant
Monotreme0218 October 2008
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.
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Burn After Reading — What if you believed you were in a spy movie?
AvidClimber2 June 2013
Burn After Reading is a weird movie. It takes everything that makes a good spy flick and turn it on its head. You can't help but incredulously laugh at what happens. This is all about oddballs.

The good. Excellent acting. Totally off the wall characters, actions and situations, yet completely logical. Story with twists within twists. Well paced scenario. Solid dialogs. Nice action.

The actors. George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, and John Malkovich play disturbingly crazy roles stuffed with delusion and heavily dosed with stupidity. While Richard Jenkins, David Rasche, and J.K. Simmons seem almost out of place as the standard bearers of reason.

The bad. Since it's so bizarre, it won't please everyone.

The ugly. Nothing.

The result. Offbeat and cooky comedy. Don't think you'll see your run of the mill kind of film and you'll have fun.
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It didn't work for me
dbborroughs6 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Wacky Coen Brothers film that should on the page work, but in actuality falls flat. The story is about John Malkovich a disgruntled CIA agent who quit in order to write his memoirs. The disc is lost and it becomes a scramble between a bunch of twits in order to get their hands on the information contained with in. Well acted, well written the film falls flat because however the Coens put the film together it drains the humor out of the situations. I mean there were things that made me laugh in the trailer that just sort of washed over me with out a ripple in the film. I have no idea what happened. Its good after a fashion and better than the things like The Lady Killers, but its still not say Lebowski or one of their lesser films.
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Just my opinion!
tara_is_taiza23 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The only thing funny about this movie is when Brad Pitt gets punched in the face and the chair George Clooney makes in his basement! Other than that this movie is slow going and has no point what so ever. Why the hell is Ozzy's wife important. other than the fact she's a b*tch? A lot of the boring crap could have been cut out and you would have had the same result but then the movie would have been a half hour long. It was supposed to be a comedy but all the funny stuff was shown in the previews. They wasted a great cast on a crap movie! I will say that George Clooney was the best one in the movie. Take what you want from this and leave the rest. I didn't like it but you might.
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