2008 - United States - 96 minutes
Directors and Writers - Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
Internet Movie Database User Rating - 7.5/10 - Link to IMDb
My Rating - 5 of 5 Stars


This is a real kick of a movie. Ethan and Joel Coen are noted for their dark humor and absurd situations, and in this film, they give the audience a witty satire on the security community - throwing in a neat stab at the attitude of those who man the exercise centers of our country. Be aware that just about everyone in this film is a dolt, and if not a dolt, a bastard or a bitch. Throw self-centered security and exercise nuts together and shake - you get Burn After Reading.

The basic plot is fairly simple - simple, that is, as the ultra creative Coens can make it. A security man has been forced out of his job and decides to write a tell-all memoir. His discontented wife is having an affair with another security man - a sex manic who seeks pleasure with every woman he meets. A disk containing some data for the memoir is found by a exercise consultant who thinks she needs extensive, very expensive plastic surgery in order to attract a man. She and her fellow worker decide to hold the disk for ransom in order to raise the money for the surgery. As I said, simple!

Handled in the wrong way, this absurd plot would have been a silly, juvenile mess, but the Coens have taken this ludicrousness and made a highly entertaining romp. It is the directing and acting that bring this beautiful farce to its high altitude. Needless-to-say, the Coens are geniuses at this sort of thing, and they have a stable of super actors to bring their warped vision to fruition.

John Malkovich plays the disillusioned security man on his way out. He’s a drunk, and a surly drunk at that. He pretty much hates the world and wants everyone in it to suffer. Malkovich has the unique ability to play such a character and still make the audience feel a little sorry for him.

Tilda Swinton plays Malkovich’s bitch of a wife who is having an affair with the sex-crazy guy. She is a pediatrician who hates children. What more needs to be said? Swinton plays this cold woman to the hilt.

George Clooney is the lover who can’t get enough sex from anyone. Plus, he is probably the second biggest dolt in the film. Clooney is just great in this role - a real treat to watch.

All of the acting is superior - including all supporting characters - but Brad Pitt absolutely steals the show as a not very bright fitness nut determined to help his friend finance her plastic surgery.

That friend is played wonderfully by Frances McDormand. She has mastered the technique of making even the most outlandish character believable, and she certainly pulls out all the stops on this one.

It is beyond my belief that a large number of critics did not like this film. I can only assume that they have completely lost their senses of humor and absurdity or never had them in the first place. Burn After Reading is an absurd delight created by super directing, a very witty script, and exceptional acting. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t get one good chuckle after another from this one.


Neil Turner
January 6, 2009






Burn After Reading