Toronto Review: The Coen Brother's Burn After Reading

September 6, 2008

Burn After Reading Review

Comedy from chaos - that's what Burn After Reading is all about. Essentially this film is a chaotic ensemble drama about six intersecting characters - but remarkably it's hilarious. I don't know how the Coen Brothers did it, but all of the eclectic characters they gathered together in Burn After Reading all really shined through in the finished product. The only problem was the felt it a bit skimpy, like there could have been so much more. At only 96 minutes in length, the film plays fairly well throughout most of it, but ends abruptly and often mixes darker elements and comedy, not always successfully. However, it's still a smart comedy with a hilarious ensemble cast that most people will end up enjoying thoroughly.

CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) decides to leave his job after he's cited for "drinking problems," and starts writing memoirs in order to pass the time and eventually make some money. Unfortunately his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) is having an affair with Harry (George Clooney), a womanizing, gun-toting chauvinist. When Chad (Brad Pitt) and co-worker Linda (Frances McDormand) accidentally find a disk containing files and documents for Cox's memoir in the gym, they attempt to blackmail him. And all hell breaks loose when Harry starts spending time with Linda all because she's desperate for attention. When the lives of all of them eventually start to clash together, chaos and comedy ensue.

While I definitely enjoyed Burn After Reading, for some reason that I can't exactly figure out, I didn't love it like I was expecting. Its problems may lie in the rather abrupt ending (that comes well before you want it to) and murky mix of comedy and suspense. When characters start getting shot and you're trying to laugh all at the same time, it gets a bit confusing. Burn is definitely not a mess of a film, but it's not a comedy classic either. Honestly, only the Coen Brothers could actually write such dry humor and wrap it around the story of an ex-CIA agent on the edge of insanity. Malkovich definitely earns my respect for easily being one of the funniest characters I've seen all year, while Pitt comes in a close second. As much as I loved watching all of eclectic characters go crazy, I just wish I could've been able to spend more time with each.

Toronto Rating: 8 out of 10

Find more posts: Opinions, TIFF 08



this comes from the guy who gave INDY 4 an 8.5 and CLOVERFIELD an 8. no thanks.

roy on Sep 6, 2008


It's not like he said he didn't like it. And Indy 4 and Cloverfield good, not as great as his scores, but good movies. But anyway Roy don't be an idiot, if you had no interest in this movie, don't blame it on the reviewer.

Itri on Sep 6, 2008


With movies like Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men under their belts, the Coen Brothers would actually have to try to make a movie suck. I already convinced myself this would be worth watching when I saw the trailer, and I am eager to see it.

JL on Sep 6, 2008


Sounds like a royal stinkeroo. I have a chance to try to win free tickets. I'm not even going to enter!

Nilo on Sep 6, 2008


It sounds like a stinker? It got an 8 out of 10.

Max on Sep 6, 2008


This movie looks funny, not a stinker to me :\

Chris W. (Co. Springs...) on Sep 6, 2008


why does everyone get down on cloverfield that movie was freaking intense, and finally added something alittle different to movies...but yeah probably wont see this

Cody on Sep 7, 2008


HA HA...once again Alex has proven is an idiot when it comes to movies. I'm not saying the Coens are movie gods...but I've seen the film as well and I can say with out a doubt it is one of the funniest well crafted films. It surpasses Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder and Step Brothers. I also agree with Roy...anyone who gave Indy 4 and Cloverfield more than a 5.4 shouldn't write movie reviews.

one on Sep 7, 2008


I think 8 out of 10 is good. But Cloverfield did suck a big one. I will see this movie.

AllmightyKeim on Sep 7, 2008


Cloverfield was awesome, indy sucked, but thats not the point. Burn After Reading looks great to me. Brad Pitt to me is such a great actor. Anyone see him in 12 Monkey's? I can't wait to watch this one.

Andy Adair on Sep 7, 2008


Finally someone who has seen 12 monkeys...I looooove that film...Brad Pitt's performance is different than how most of the public perceives him as an actor...

Maxx on Sep 7, 2008


Brad Pitt is one of my favorite actors... I think this movie looks amazing and I can't wait to see it. And yeah 12 Monkeys was amazing.

CSpuppydog on Sep 7, 2008


Yea, i thought he did a great job in 12 Monkeys; which btw is one of my favorite movies of Bruce Willis and in general. Plus i enjoy watching Pitt in movie, especially stuff he did where he was a spy; Spy Game. Looking forward to this movie no matter what; love them Coens. And Cloverfield <_< , oh man what a disappointment

Nikhil Hariharan on Sep 7, 2008


as always,he goes with the obligatory "i didn't like it very much,but it was fantastic nonetheless".

vel on Sep 7, 2008


Oh my god! A cult following of 12 Monkeys right here on Am I sleeping? One of my favorite movies and part of my collection. Terry Gilliam is a creative genius. A disturbing, crazy genius, but a genius nonetheless. Props to #s 10, 11, & 12. Did any of you ever see Tideland, though? Seriously fucked up movie. And according to his introduction, Terry Gilliam's inner child is admittedly an eight year old girl. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was another Gilliam classic, though. Got that one, too.

JL on Sep 7, 2008


JL: hah! yea i had to read the novel Tideland for one of my English classes, and then ended up watching the movie, oh man that was like ages ago. The movie though is kinda like an acid trip; just like Fear and Loathing, but it aspires to people who actually have an imagination. Plus you got Jeff Bridges; "the Dude" in the movie. Seriously though, i love the twisted mind that Gilliam has, makes his cinematography unique; Brazil. Man, thanks for reminding me of that film, i got to refer it to one of my friends who's a huge Hunter Thompson (fear and loathing) fan.

Nikhil Hariharan on Sep 7, 2008


hey cloverfield was great! indie.. god was horrible... anyway i want to see this movie.

Paulina on Sep 7, 2008


Well anything reviewed is subjective anyhow, like grading a paper, or judging technicalitly on a sporting event. But at some point someone will be criticized on their judging of a particular something. Such as people bashing Alex for being a poor movie critic based on higher reviews for movies that didnt live up to their par and nowhere near Osacar contention. And giving a movie a review with sub-par praise. It comes down to the end where the viewer him/herslef can make the last say if they liked it or not. Its your decision to make your decision on what someone else says, good or bad the flim.

Ken Masters on Sep 7, 2008


F(*& you "roy" and "one" I'm sorry that not everyone agrees with your opinions (thats what they are). I happened to love cloverfield and liked indy 4 quite a bit. Regardless, do you really want a blogosphere where ever reviewer tries to coverge to what that "right" opinion is? As has been said a fraking billion times movies are a subjective media so anyone who tells someone to stop writing reviews can go f*&( themselves especially when they are as well written as Alex's are.

KaboodleMonster on Sep 9, 2008


go f' yourself kaboodle. why dont you go to aint it cool news. i thought this site was for real movie fans. "liked indy 4 quite a bit" lol. watch it in again in a few years (after your balls drop) and tell me if you still like it. do the same for cloverfield while your at it assh0le.

roy on Sep 10, 2008


K you both, quit it. Last time i checked, movies are a known as "art", and last time i remember art is subjective. So if he likes Indy 4 and Cloverfield, so be it, its his personal preference. A what does it mean to be a "real" movie fan? I guess i enjoyed the movie Superman Returns so im not a "real" movie fan anymore. Seriously, you sound childish.

Nikhil Hariharan on Sep 10, 2008


Brad Pitt can be so funny, as long as he's not taking himself too seriously... in any case, it's about time someone made good use of his habitually spastic arm movements

patrick r on Sep 20, 2008

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