Burn After Reading (2008)

Genre(s): Comedy / Thriller
Universal || R - 96 minutes - $29.98 || December 23, 2008
Reviewer: Tyler Thomas || Posted On: 2008-12-29

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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.

.:: A U D I O ::.

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Director: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Writer(s): Ethan Coen & Joel Coen (written by)
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt, J.K. Simmons

Theatrical Release Date: September 12, 2008

Supplemental Material:
  • 3 Featurettes

Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (1.85)
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

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.::THE FILM::.

Ethan and Joel Coen have been on a role as of late. Their major award-winning film No Country For Old Men was one of the best movies to date by them, and earned them major accreditation from fans and viewers alike. Sadly though, their latest, Burn After Reading, fails to compare to that film or their others.

I watched this movie twice and still donít understand what the message is. Iím going to try to explain it the best I can:

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) is fired from the C.I.A. and wants to write his memoirs about his experiences and life in the agency. His wife, Katie (Tilda Swinton) is cheating on him with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) who is already married to Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel) who is cheating on him with some random person. Harry is cheating on his wife not only with Katie but also Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) who is in love with Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) who is more concerned about how he looks than anything else. Phew. This sounds more like an episode of ďThe HillsĒ doesnít it?

Osbourne saves his memoirs onto his computer, which Katie at the advice of her divorce lawyer copies everything available onto a disc to give to the lawyer. While doing so, she inadvertently copies the memoirs as well and gives them to the lawyer who gives it to the receptionist. The receptionist puts it in her gym bag and heads to the gym, Hard Bodies, where the disc is lost.

The disc ends up being found by one of the workers at the gym and is given to Chad, who puts it into his computer to find all this weird ďsignalĒ stuff on it. He knows its valuable, so Chad and Linda concoct a plan to blackmail Osbourne for money, mainly $50,000 so Linda can get cosmetic surgery.

Now back to the other couple. Katie and Harry are in love with each other, well Katie is, Harry is more in love with running every day, and they want to divorce their loved ones and run away with each other. Harry however is still online dating other women in the mean time, mainly Linda and is falling for her as well.

After the blackmail fails, Chad and Linda decide to give the disc to the Russian embassy. This is all about twenty minutes into the movie, and after that it starts to get weird. Yeah, I know it sounds like it already is, but the film goes way off course.

This just doesnít seem like an actual attempt at a great movie. The actors in it are all stars in their own right, just not here. There are too many characters to deal with, the plot is inane, and the movie tries to be too much of a comedy and doesnít have enough serious overtones in it. This is a step backwards for the Coen brothers.


Finding The Burn (5 minutes): The Coenís talk about the script and how they wrote it before No Country For Old Men. Also shown are interviews with the cast and what they thought about the film.

DC Insiders Run Amuck (13 minutes): Another feature on why the movie came to be. The Coenís talk about the cast as does the cast about their characters.

Welcome Back, George (3 minutes): A feature on George Clooney who returns to act in the Coenís films. Clooney is somewhat entertaining during this one, but itís once again another lackluster extra.

Where are the audio commentaries with the cast and crew? It seems like this was rushed out for the holiday season... hopefully a re-release is being planned with extras that are worthwhile.


The Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1 presentation of Burn After Reading does little to benefit viewers. Colors are over saturated, black levels are inconsistent, and there are no real standout scenes that look good. While sometimes the picture is decent, there are too many scenes where the picture has too much grain or colors are overblown.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track feels the exact same way. There are no real high points, nor any low points. As a comedy centered movie, surround was rarely used except in a handful of scenes. Dialogue levels were consistent and on-key. Thereís no real issue with the audio here, but as a film with fairly little action in it, itís hard to give it any higher due to that.


The Coen brothers have failed with their attempt at humor with Burn After Reading. The plot is confusing, and even after two viewings Iím still lost at what point they were trying to get across. The video and audio presentation are below average and take into account the fact that the special features are incredibly lame with no commentary to be found. Odds are this will be released as will past Coen films in extended or unrated cuts with extra features. Donít burn your money by buying this. Itís a rental for a weekend at most.