Burn After Reading (2008)

MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 1 hr., 36 mins.
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  • Review by Trent Russi
    Rating: 9.0

    Burn After Reading was a silly and ridiculous movie that had me giggling the whole time. When an ex-CIA analyst has a disc of information accidentally left at the gym, it is discovered by a couple of gym employees who try to use it for blackmail. Quickly the analyst's wife is involved as well as her lover, the lover's wife, the lover's wife's lover, the lover's lover, the lover's lover's boss, and of course, the Russians.

    Pity Party

    The best thing about this film is not it's story. It is clearly a character piece. Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand's characters are stupid, vain, and somehow terribly positive. George Clooney's character is neurotic and sleezy. Tilda Swinton plays the cold-hearted witch. And John Malkovich plays John Malkovich (as per usual). And with all these wonderful awful character who is the audience to identify with, who is pulling them along? Honestly, I don't think there is anyone that the "typical" audience member can identify with (or at least non that they would want to). The closest any of the main storyline characters come is the gym's manager. He is sad, and lonely, and simply doesn't have the luck he maybe deserves. But even in his case, the audience simply pities him.

    So how could you possibly watch something where every character is deplorable? For one, the movie is framed with discussions in the CIA. Several agents try to sort through the ridiculous events, completely oblivious to the underlying motivations of the characters. While they are completely unimportant to the plot of the film, they serve as the characters that the audience connect with. They are smart, and completely confused by the situation.

    Somehow the Cohen brothers can create a film that is hilarious and overall enjoyable, when you really don't care what happens to the characters.

    It's a Twist!

    I won't divulge any of the films shocking moments, but let's just say the movie is moving happily along and it suddenly turns into a dark comedy. Like all Cohen brothers films that I've seen (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, O, Brother Where Art Thou?, The Ladykillers, and No Country for Old Men), Burn After Reading has violence in it, and like the others (with the exception of No Country) it surprised me. After seeing so many of their films, I don't know why it continues to surprise me. I guess by writing this I'm letting the cat out of the bag in some way. Is that bad? Probably.


    I've heard several people tell me that they hated this film. I've been told this is just another film demonstrating that the Cohen brothers hate their actors. I think this probably has to do with that fact that most people really would like the characters as people. But I find it hard to believe that you wouldn't enjoy watching these characters to simply see what they'll do next.