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Burn After Reading: A Smart and Sinister Spy Comedy

As the opening credits of Burn After Reading blip across a satellite image of Washington, DC, viewers may find themselves wondering if they've wandered into the wrong movie — a Bourne Identity type thriller filled with high-tech secrets and evil intentions. But for every spook with high-security clearance in DC, there is a goofball at Jamba Juice, waiting for his afternoon smoothie. And when that iPod-wearing dude wanders into the tropes of a spy movie, the results are wonderfully absurd and fraught with a different sort of intelligence.

The Coen brothers have given us stories of bumbling criminals time and time again, but with Burn After Reading, the filmmakers approach the familiar theme in an entirely fresh way. The "criminals" in this case are more accidental than bumbling, their deceptions adorably mundane against an ominous, thundering soundtrack and spy-camera cinematography. For all the details,


Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand play Chad and Linda, two gym employees who find a CD in the locker room that contains data belonging to a former CIA analyst. Assuming that someone will pay big bucks for the return of the sensitive info, they attempt, with childlike naivete, to blackmail the analyst, a Princeton man named Osborne Cox (John Malkovich). But old Ozzy is far more concerned about his recent unemployment and impending divorce from his wife (Tilda Swinton), who's having an affair with a pinhead womanizer played by George Clooney.

When Cox doesn't bite on the blackmail, Chad and Linda attempt to sell the secrets to the Russians, inadvertently setting off a series of plot twists that entangle everyone and provide plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. At one point, a CIA boss (played by JK Simmons) is briefed on the case — and utterly baffled: "Just report back to me when — I don't know. When it makes sense."

The way the story unfolds makes perfect sense, and at the same time, it's entirely senseless. Like kids playing spy games, the characters talk like actors trying to up the drama while waiting for something to happen. But when things happen — and believe me, some serious stuff happens — it is simply real, without cinematic spectacle, and more powerful as a result. Where other filmmakers hold might back in the name of mystery or add a cheeky twist, the Coen brothers just give us mundane reality at its most absurd.

Photos Courtesy of Focus Features

Join The Conversation
Caromanterola Caromanterola 9 years
Seems like the Coen Brothers are going back to their roots wth their new movie "Burn after reading" full of great sarcastic humor and actors everybody is dying to see.
pinky-tuscadero pinky-tuscadero 9 years
Just saw it and I really enjoyed it.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
I jsut got back from seeing this! It was so funny! The whole theater was laughing! the whole cast was Great!
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 9 years
This looks good, but I don't think anyone I know will want to see this movie so I'll probably catch it on DVD.
clooneywoman clooneywoman 9 years
i am in a town that don't show any kind of out country movies , is i will travel to Cairo to c it , really can't wait!!!
figurine figurine 9 years
This one just got a lot more exciting.
HeidiMD HeidiMD 9 years
I have a date to see this tonight, and I am so excited! The Coens can do no wrong.
Candizzle Candizzle 9 years
I can't wait to see this! Love the Coens!
Mesayme Mesayme 9 years
I love the cast but I'm gonna wait for the DVD. It just looks like something I'm going to need to keep rewinding to catch the funny. I haven't enjoyed any Coen Bros. movie yet.
Frank-y-Ava Frank-y-Ava 9 years
Brad looks really good in this movie though!
Frank-y-Ava Frank-y-Ava 9 years
This looks so silly!
Linda-McP Linda-McP 9 years
Can't wait to see this one. What a great cast. The Coen brothers are remarkable.
luv2blazy luv2blazy 9 years
We are seeing this tomorrow night. I can't wait. One, for the movie, and two, because my husband and I are going on a date...without a grown up movie...YEAH ME!!
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
to be honest, i wasn't overly excited to see this movie but the more that i hear about it the more i guess maybe i'll check it out. i know that my fiance wants to see it so i'm guessing that it'll be on the list of things to see!
hollspd hollspd 9 years
SO excited for it!! Looks great.
Zahara-Pitt Zahara-Pitt 9 years
can't wait to see it
Allyace Allyace 9 years
We were going to go see it tonight, but then an old friend came into town. So next weekend it is!
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
i can't to see this. Looks so funny! I love like everyone in it!
Mmmmmmmm It sounds awesome. I can't wait to see it.
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