Burn After Reading (2008)

The Coen brothers unite for another clever character driven comedy.  The setup is fairly simple but quickly turns into a farce.  A gym trainer who works at the local gym where many of the government agencies come to train, finds a disk of sensitive information.  He then attempts to sell it both to the USA government and the Russian embassy.

The cast of this movie is outstanding with no real star out clipping or ranking the other.  

Brad Pitt plays the clueless gym trainer who has taken all his guidance on working with the FBI/CIA from what he has learned in the movies.  

Frances McDormand plays his middle aged friend at the gym who is desperate to find a husband, while also considering plastic surgery to bump her chances up.  Between the two of them they attempt to sell this disk of secrets.


Naturally, some of the people she attempts to date are from the same world they are bumping into with the secrets.

John Malkovich plays a bitter and twisted CIA agent who was fired and has decided to write his memoirs and expose everything.  Malkovich is on top form in this movie and you can’t imagine any other actor taking on this role with the same result as he.

Naturally once the CIA realize someone is trying to sell secrets to the Russians they are swing into action and add to the whole circus of characters as they intertwine with each other lives. 

CIA Superior: What did we learn, Palmer?
CIA Officer: I don’t know, sir.
CIA Superior: I don’t fuckin’ know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir.
CIA Superior: I’m fucked if I know what we did.
CIA Officer: Yes, sir, it’s, uh, hard to say
CIA Superior: Jesus Fucking Christ.

George Clooney has a lot of fun in this role, including revealing a wonderful sex chair he has developed in his basement complete with a rocking vibrator.

Special nod has to go out to 

J.K. Simmons who plays the CIA Superior attempting to bring this whole mess to some sort of understanding.  He plays it like the same way he was the newspaper editor in Spiderman – but this time with a lot less words as in the CIA world, less is more when it comes to dialogue.

I could do a deep dive on the multiple story lines that are woven together but that would spoil the surprise that is little gem.   It is rumored that the Coen brothers wrote this story at the same time as No Country for Old Men, alternating days as they went between serious and comedy.

This movie follows the same formula as their previous comedies, including O’Brother Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty, Gambit and of course Fargo.  If you are comfortable with that list in your library, then slip this one too and it won’t feel out of place.


Viewing Date
Wednesday, 2nd September 2015


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Author: Alan Williamson

CTO | Partner | Investor | Java Champion | Author | Podcaster | Speaker | Architect

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