Burn After Reading (2008) Review

The final scene in this film is not only the best scene but also a fantastic way to sum up the whole film. I won’t quote it word for word but it involves a CIA Officer and his Superior (played casually and hilariously by J.K Simmons.) They have no idea what has happened through the course of the film, why the outcome developed or how it involved them. They finish with “I don’t know what we did, but lets never do it again!”

This exchange perfectly sums up the very clever, fast-paced, comedy of errors that is the Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading. It involves spies, gym instructors, housewives and the CIA but how they become intertwined in the events of the film would take a whole review to explain. That is the charm of the film. It’s not a straight A through to B and then on to C plot. It has twists, turns, coincidence and extreme, unbelievable plot developments that have to be seen to be believed. It’s interesting because at no point do you know where this plot is going.

The impressive cast is led by a very funny Brad Pitt.

It is also ably acted by some of Hollywood’s finest. Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Tilda Swinton are a great cast to start off with but they do very little of the “grunt work.” The film is actually carried forward primarily by the brilliant Frances McDormand. She has a great chemistry and some amazing scenes with Brad Pitt and some even funnier moments with George Clooney.

In fact, the film uses the cast to great effect. Brad Pitt trying to blackmail John Malkovich is a great moment in confusion and double-cross. George Clooney as the womaniser and “spy” shows exactly how well he can do comedy and how the Coen Brothers seem to be able to get the best out of him. It being a Coen Brothers film, there is also plenty in the way of snappy and clever dialogue. Some of the great, funny and clever moments come from clever exchanges and interchanges from the more than capable cast.

Clooney plays against the usual confident, cool roles we are used to seeing him in.

The plot of the film is very good and very clever but I don’t think it’s as good as it wants to be. It does rely on coincidence and fair amount of the audience suspending their disbelief. Right from the start, there is no indication as to where the film is going or how its going to end and while this might be funny and interesting to some people, I can imagine that it would also cause some people to switch off completely. I do think the film is worth it just for that final scene though. The whole confusion between J.K Simmons and his subordinate officer catches the tone and confusion of the plot perfectly and manages to sum up the story brilliantly too.

Overall, I enjoyed Burn After Reading but didn’t think it was as clever as it was trying to be. It’s brilliantly acted which you’d expect from heavyweights such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney who do a great job of playing against type in some very funny situations. The film’s star is definitely Frances McDormand though, who carries the movie and gets some great scenes with the two “bigger” stars.

Rating 2.5

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Frances McDormand is by far the best thing about this film.

7 thoughts on “Burn After Reading (2008) Review

    1. I agree, for some Coen films, thats the way to view them. They do the more “realistic” films so well though, especially True Grit which was fantastic.

  1. I quite liked this one but had little desire to ever watch it again. In thinking back on it, there are some parts that had me rolling in the theater, though. Particularly the machine Clooney builds…

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