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Burn After Reading (2008)



Average Rating: 6.8/10
Reviews Counted: 226
Fresh: 177 | Rotten: 49

With Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers have crafted another clever comedy/thriller with an outlandish plot and memorable characters.


Average Rating: 6.3/10
Critic Reviews: 48
Fresh: 31 | Rotten: 17

With Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers have crafted another clever comedy/thriller with an outlandish plot and memorable characters.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.3/5
User Ratings: 184,642

My Rating

Movie Info

At the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Arlington, Va., analyst Osborne Cox arrives for a top-secret meeting. Unfortunately for Cox, the secret is soon out: he is being ousted. Cox does not take the news particularly well and returns to his Georgetown home to work on his memoirs and his drinking, not necessarily in that order. His wife Katie is dismayed, though not particularly surprised; she is already well into an illicit affair with Harry Pfarrer, a married federal marshal,


Drama, Comedy


Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Dec 21, 2008


Focus Features - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (227) | Top Critics (48) | Fresh (177) | Rotten (49) | DVD (19)

These are functioning morons, they walk and work among us. And they are brilliant and funny and in spite of the screwball-comedy nature of the story, they are completely believable.

November 7, 2008 Full Review Source: At the Movies
At the Movies
Top Critic IconTop Critic

, Frances McDormand might get nominated for an Academy Award in a supporting role. She was great.

November 7, 2008 Full Review Source: At the Movies
At the Movies
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Coens are loopy stylists, and it's often amusing to watch this comedy of errors unfold. But after a masterpiece like No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading is classified as disposable.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic IconTop Critic

For fans of the Coens... it suggests, especially on the heels of No Country for Old Men, that they have rediscovered their cinematic vision after several lean years.

September 16, 2008 Full Review Source: The New Republic
The New Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

On screen, delusional schmoes are more fun than smart people, and in the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, the imperious former spook played by John Malkovich accuses his blackmailers...of heading a league of morons.

September 12, 2008 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune | Comments (10)
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Burn After Reading is a piffle, but it's a savagely amusing one.

September 12, 2008 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Seldom has a comedy about such thoroughly dumb individuals been so engaging, or so insightful.

July 15, 2014 Full Review Source:

A comedy so stupid, it doesn't realise it's a comedy. If intelligence is relative, then ignorance is bliss.

October 14, 2012 Full Review Source:

A quirky tale of lust, greed, vanity, idiocy and ineptitude that spreads its giggly ripples through the bureaucratic buildings and leafy suburbs of Washington, D.C.

September 28, 2011 Full Review Source: American Profile
American Profile

A month from now you'll have forgotten all about it.

August 15, 2011 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

Coen fans will also enjoy their distinct brand of whip-cracking dialogue, which is almost musical in its rhythms.

July 14, 2011 Full Review Source: Digital Spy
Digital Spy

Sure Burn After Reading is disjointed, fragmented and frustrated. But that's the point.

March 24, 2011 Full Review Source: What Culture
What Culture

Gratuitous stuff, flat and desperate

August 26, 2009 Full Review Source: CinePassion | Comment (1)

It's a just-for-funsies caper, and the Coen brothers seem to revel in it, helped along by an impressive cast that gleefully follows their lead.

August 14, 2009 Full Review Source: Times-Picayune

Fails to live up to the high expectations involuntarily set by such reputable talent.

August 1, 2009

a quirky, delicious comedy with an A-list cast clearly enjoying every moment of their screen time

April 4, 2009 Full Review Source: Screenwize

Please send Get Well cards to the Coen Brothers. After last year's No Country for Old Men, for which they won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year, Joel and Ethan Coen have had a relapse. Their new offering Burn After Reading is reminiscen

February 1, 2009 Full Review Source: Fayetteville Free Weekly
Fayetteville Free Weekly

A bunch of pieces in search of a puzzle.

January 12, 2009 Full Review Source: ÜberCiné | Comments (2)

Unlikable characters who do stupid things.

January 6, 2009 Full Review Source: The Cinema Source

Burn Before Watching.

January 3, 2009 Full Review Source: | Comments (19)

Una disparatada comedia que le toma el pelo a la (des)inteligencia norteamericana, de la mano de un puñado de personajes absurdos animados por un estupendo elenco.

December 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Uruguay Total
Uruguay Total

Influenciados pelos mesmos clichês que comprometem tantas produções do estilo, os próprios personagens de Queime Depois de Ler parecem não saber diferenciá-los da realidade.

December 2, 2008 Full Review Source: Cinema em Cena | Comment (1)
Cinema em Cena

Showcases a pitch-black comic sensibility that will either attract or repel moviegoers.

November 26, 2008 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

All in all though, fun times. I look forward to revisiting it again in the future, like most Coen bros movies.

November 21, 2008 Full Review Source: JoBlo's Movie Emporium
JoBlo's Movie Emporium

Tries to be "The Big Lebowski" of the War on Terror.

November 20, 2008 Full Review Source: Film Snobs
Film Snobs

Burn After Reading is part spy spoof and part rumination of middle-aged loneliness, which goes a long way to explain why its elements never cohere.

November 12, 2008 Full Review
Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, IL)

Audience Reviews for Burn After Reading

When it comes to Burn After Reading, it seems the Coens are just pulling things out of thin air. Guess what? It works just fine.

Reading the plot-line is one thing, but watching 90 minutes of a lost disk is something else. There is so much intertwining going on, it is surprising how this film never gets as confusing as it sounds. Head-scratching perhaps, but not confusing.

The banter from the characters is highly entertaining. In fact, this is one of the areas where this picture excels. The constant barrage of the F word is worth the price of admission.

There are a number of noticeable faces. John Malkovich and Brad Pitt get a lot of points for their characters. J.K. Simmons makes the most of his minutes as well.

Burn After Reading is an example of a recommendable comedic drama. "Report back to me when it makes sense."
September 8, 2014
JY Skacto

Super Reviewer

An entertaining, though flawed comedy concerning top-secret information that is leaked out accidentally to a couple of pinhead gym managers (Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt), and how the government analyst (John Malkovich) responsible proceeds to track them down. Though not the Coen Bros. finest hour, this is still a wickedly funny satire somewhat in the vein of 'Dr. Strangelove'. The characters aren't fleshed out as well as they could be, but the performances from the terrific cast make up for it considerably. And, as always, they get the point of their film across in their final shot, which serves as an important reminder that governments probably never learn from their mistakes the first time around, and are bound to repeat it sometime in the future again. Brad Pitt steals the show from a comedy standpoint, while McDormand is equally terrific as the film's most interesting and likable character. Recommended if you like the Coen Bros. brand of humor.
December 12, 2012
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer


The Coen Brother's have had a hilarious line of quirky, zany comedies that have accompanied their darker, more violent films throughout their film making history, and Burn After Reading is basically a hybrid of the two in the same way that Fargo is. It's ruthless, and blackly comic at the same, and for my money it's one of their best. The key to what makes this film work is the cast and the direction more than anything else. The Coen's know how to make clever comedies out of any situation, and no matter how absurd the cleverly interlocking narrative gets they find a way to make it work. The direction and timing of the cast is absolutely perfect and the performances all around are fantastic, you can easily forgive the film for being too self aware of it's stupidity as a result. With a script filled with wit, and an unconventional storyline that gives laughs at every opportunity ,you completely forget about it's various flaws. It's an intelligent knockabout comedy, and personally I think it was one of the best comedies of 2008. It's very well put together, and I honestly can't remember laughing as nearly as much times as I did in the company of Burn After Reading at any film in a very long time. It is an absolutely hilarious comedy and to it's benefit manages to give us plenty of thrills, even in the exact same moments where it serves up good humour. However throughout the film you do get a sense that none of the events that take place are in any way consequential, for some people that has proven to be it's downfall, but truthfully, for me anyway, a lot of the Coen's funniest pieces of work aren't. In the case of Burn After Reading it gives you everything that the action thriller premise would suggest you would get, and gives you that rather than just using the set up as an excuse to execute the witticisms. The inspired gags, the quirkiness of the plot, and the various characters are infinitely memorable, deem it extremely satisfying, and effortlessly manages to shoot the spy conspiracy thriller genre to a whole new whimsical level of wonderfully offbeat hilarity.
October 10, 2012
Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

Burn After Reading proves that "No Country" was not just a fluke masterpiece and that the Coens have returned to the top of their game after a couple misfires in a row (Intolerable Cruelty & The Ladykillers). Features a wickedly hilarious script and amazing performances from the entire cast.
March 25, 2012
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

    1. CIA Superior: What do we learn, Palmer?
    2. Chad Feldheimer: I dont know sir.
    3. CIA Superior: I don't fucking know either.
    4. Chad Feldheimer: I guess we learned, not to do it again.
    5. Chad Feldheimer: Yes sir.
    6. Chad Feldheimer: I'm fucked if I know what we did.
    – Submitted by Directors C (23 months ago)
    1. Chad Feldheimer: I am very surprised that he did not give us that reward!
    – Submitted by Moe J (2 years ago)
    1. Chad Feldheimer: Secure your shit.
    – Submitted by Cornelius H (2 years ago)
    1. Linda Litzke: Dribble? Dribble?
    – Submitted by Tim M (2 years ago)
    1. Linda Litzke: Organs?
    – Submitted by Jon T (2 years ago)
    1. Chad Feldheimer: You think that's a Schwinn?
    – Submitted by Michael C (2 years ago)
View all quotes (12)

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