Burn After Reading (2008)



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

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, … More

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence)
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Directed By: ,
Written By: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
In Theaters:
On DVD: Dec 21, 2008
Box Office: $60.3M
Focus Features - Official Site


as Harry Pfarrer

as Linda Litzke

as Osbourne Cox

as Chad Feldheimer

as Katie Cox

as Ted Treffon

as Sandy Pfarrer

as CIA Officer

as CIA Superior

as Cosmetic Surgeon

as Krapotkin

as Tuchman Marsh Man

as Divorce Lawyer

as Party Guest

as Party Guest

as Stretching Gym Patro...

as Star of 'Coming Up D...
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Burn After Reading

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Critic Reviews for Burn After Reading

All Critics (228) | Top Critics (48)

It might be the same old song, but I could watch these guys play it over and over again.

Full Review… | October 21, 2014

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

Full Review… | July 15, 2014

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

Full Review… | October 14, 2012

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.

Full Review… | September 28, 2011
American Profile

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

Full Review… | August 15, 2011
East Bay Express

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

Full Review… | July 14, 2011
Digital Spy

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."

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.

Dan Schultz
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.

Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

Burn After Reading Quotes

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– Submitted by Tim M (3 years ago)

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