Burn After Reading


Burn After Reading

Critics Consensus

With Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers have crafted another clever comedy/thriller with an outlandish plot and memorable characters.



Total Count: 242


Audience Score

User Ratings: 187,664
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Movie Info

At the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Arlington, Va., analyst Osborne Cox arrives for a top-secret meeting. Unfortunately for Cox, the secret is soon out: he is being ousted. Cox does not take the news particularly well and returns to his Georgetown home to work on his memoirs and his drinking, not necessarily in that order. His wife Katie is dismayed, though not particularly surprised; she is already well into an illicit affair with Harry Pfarrer, a married federal marshal, and sets about making plans to leave Cox for Harry. Elsewhere in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, and seemingly worlds apart, Hardbodies Fitness Centers employee Linda Litzke can barely concentrate on her work. She is consumed with her life plan for extensive cosmetic surgery, and confides her mission to can-do colleague Chad Feldheimer. Linda is all but oblivious to the fact that the gym's manager Ted Treffon pines for her even as she arranges dates via the Internet with other men. When a computer disc containing material for the CIA analyst's memoirs accidentally falls into the hands of Linda and Chad, the duo are intent on exploiting their find. As Ted frets, "No good can come of this," events spiral out of everyone's and anyone's control, in a cascading series of darkly hilarious encounters.


George Clooney
as Harry Pfarrer
Frances McDormand
as Linda Litzke
John Malkovich
as Osbourne Cox
Brad Pitt
as Chad Feldheimer
Tilda Swinton
as Katie Cox
Richard Jenkins
as Ted Treffon
Elizabeth Marvel
as Sandy Pfarrer
David Rasche
as CIA Officer
J.K. Simmons
as CIA Superior
Jeffrey DeMunn
as Cosmetic Surgeon
Olek Krupa
as Krapotkin
Kevin Sussman
as Tuchman Marsh Man
J.R. Horne
as Divorce Lawyer
Pun Bandhu
as Party Guest
Karla Mosley
as Party Guest
Richard Poe
as Stretching Gym Patron
Dermot Mulroney
as Star of 'Coming Up Daisy'
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Critic Reviews for Burn After Reading

All Critics (242) | Top Critics (54) | Fresh (189) | Rotten (53)

  • These are functioning morons, they walk and work among us. And they are brilliant and funny and in spite of the screwball-comedy nature of the story, they are completely believable.

    Nov 7, 2008
  • , Frances McDormand might get nominated for an Academy Award in a supporting role. She was great.

    Nov 7, 2008 | Full Review…
  • The Coens are loopy stylists, and it's often amusing to watch this comedy of errors unfold. But after a masterpiece like No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading is classified as disposable.

    Oct 18, 2008 | Rating: 2.5/4
  • Halfway between a good Coen brothers movie and a terrible Coen brothers movie.

    Oct 17, 2008 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
  • Indeed, the spies and thrills don't add up at all. The plot is a total mistake. The characters are madly absurd. The film shouldn't work, but it does.

    Oct 17, 2008 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Burn After Reading is the Coens' most mediocre film in a long time: a desperately strained black comic farce.

    Oct 17, 2008 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Burn After Reading

  • Mar 15, 2019
    "What a clusterf***." The Coen brothers' black comedy Burn After Reading is a complete mess that doesn't deliver that many laughs. When two gym trainers find a computer disc containing the memoir of a CIA analyst they attempt to blackmail him; meanwhile a philandering US marshal grows increasingly paranoid that he's being spied on by someone. Starring George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich and Brad Pitt, the film has an impressive cast that gives fairly good performances. The problem is, most of the characters are unlikable assholes. And the plot goes nowhere, which would be alright if it was a fun ride or had some clever twist of irony...but it doesn't. Still, the satiric wit of the Coen brothers makes for a few fun comedic moments. Burn After Reading is entertaining at times but doesn't really amount to much.
    Dann M Super Reviewer
  • May 12, 2016
    This film is just fun and funny. A Coen Bros classic that can't be missed. The characters are expertly drawn and the alluring, winding plot is enjoyable. Great performances from the entire cast. Possibly the least dark Coens' movie.
    _kelly . Super Reviewer
  • Nov 24, 2014
    Burn After Reading is a typical Coen brothers' lark that features A-list actors strutting their stuff as a group of idiotic characters. It's a frequently funny film, but offers nothing on a deeper more thematic level, especially when compared to the directors other films like No Country for Old Men and later Inside Llewyn Davis. Rating: 56
    Bradley J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 28, 2012
    [img]http://images.rottentomatoes.com/images/user/icons/icon14.gif[/img] The Coen Brother's have had a hilarious line of quirky, zany comedies that have accompanied their darker, more violent films throughout their film making history, and Burn After Reading is basically a hybrid of the two in the same way that Fargo is. It's ruthless, and blackly comic at the same, and for my money it's one of their best. The key to what makes this film work is the cast and the direction more than anything else. The Coen's know how to make clever comedies out of any situation, and no matter how absurd the cleverly interlocking narrative gets they find a way to make it work. The direction and timing of the cast is absolutely perfect and the performances all around are fantastic, you can easily forgive the film for being too self aware of it's stupidity as a result. With a script filled with wit, and an unconventional storyline that gives laughs at every opportunity ,you completely forget about it's various flaws. It's an intelligent knockabout comedy, and personally I think it was one of the best comedies of 2008. It's very well put together, and I honestly can't remember laughing as nearly as much times as I did in the company of Burn After Reading at any film in a very long time. It is an absolutely hilarious comedy and to it's benefit manages to give us plenty of thrills, even in the exact same moments where it serves up good humour. However throughout the film you do get a sense that none of the events that take place are in any way consequential, for some people that has proven to be it's downfall, but truthfully, for me anyway, a lot of the Coen's funniest pieces of work aren't. In the case of Burn After Reading it gives you everything that the action thriller premise would suggest you would get, and gives you that rather than just using the set up as an excuse to execute the witticisms. The inspired gags, the quirkiness of the plot, and the various characters are infinitely memorable, deem it extremely satisfying, and effortlessly manages to shoot the spy conspiracy thriller genre to a whole new whimsical level of wonderfully offbeat hilarity.
    Directors C Super Reviewer

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