Movie Mom

Movie Mom

Burn After Reading

posted by Nell Minow
Lowest Recommended Age:Adult
MPAA Rating:Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.
Profanity:Very strong language
Nudity/Sex:Explicit sexual situations and references, graphic visual of a sex toy
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, character abuses alcohol
Violence/Scariness:Brief but very graphic violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues:None
Movie Release Date:September 12, 2008
DVD Release Date:December 23, 2008
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/Sex: Explicit sexual situations and references, graphic visual of a sex toy
Alcohol/Drugs: Drinking, character abuses alcohol
Violence/Scariness: Brief but very graphic violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Movie Release Date: September 12, 2008
DVD Release Date: December 23, 2008

The Coen brothers may have achieved mainstream success with their Best Picture Oscar for No Country for Old Men, but so much for adapting prestigious literary novels that engage the essential American archetypes; they are back with another twisty, genre-tweaking movie filled with their trademark combination of deadpan delivery by characters who are venal, dumb, or both, plus some shockingly grisly violence.

In past films, the Coens have played on the fine line between being derivative and being clever in adapting genre conventions to shaggy-dog-style discursive plot lines and with the way an understated tone can give an ironic twist to an under-written wisecrack. This movie skates along that fine line but benefits tremendously from two character actors who are usually limited to leading man roles because they happen to be People Magazine Sexiest Men of the Year.


George Clooney plays Harry, a twitchy, slightly anxious, persistently polyamorous U.S. Marshall from the Treasury Department. When he mentions twice that he has never discharged his weapon, we know that gun is going to have to go off before the end of the film. Brad Pitt plays Chad, a dim but energetic personal trainer who is enthusiastic about hydrating, always has his earphones in, doesn’t like wearing a suit, and thinks he’s hit the big time when a computer disk with some spy-ish looking numbers is found in the ladies’ locker room of the health club. Chad finds out that the data belongs to Osborne Cox (John Malcovich, furiously hostile as only John Malcovich can be) and thinks he might be able to get a “reward” for returning it. When Cox doesn’t cooperate, Chad and his colleague Linda (Frances McDormand), who desperately needs money so she can get liposuction, decide to find another buyer. But they are so clueless about international affairs that the only country they can think of to sell it to is Russia. They drive over to the Russian embassy and ask the first person they meet there if he wants to pay them for it, promising (without any basis in reality) that there is more where it came from.


Meanwhile, several of these characters run into each other when they are — let’s just say looking for love in all the wrong places. And out at Langley, a senior CIA officer briefed on the situation (J.K. Simmons of “Juno”) orders that the FBI be kept out, a body in question be “burned,” and that he get an update “when it all makes sense.” That will be a long wait.

The real fun here is seeing the wickedly comic deftness of Clooney and Pitt, liberated from the burden of glamor and clearly enjoying themselves tremendously. Tilda Swinton is nicely steely as Cox’s doctor wife, Richard Jenkins is endearingly timid as the lovelorn manager of the health club, and McDormand delivers as the relentlessly positive believer in the infinite possibilities of self-improvement. There are some lightly touched themes of delusion, “negativity,” and looking for love in all the wrong places that might be a glimpse of a larger statement about world affairs. But we can’t be expected to unpack all of that for at least a decade. In the meantime, those who are looking for a return to the confounding archness and stylized dryness from the minds of the Coens will enjoy this latest peek into their view of the world.

  • jestrfyl

    How can they top the Chipper scene from Fargo. What delightfully twisted minds they have. I am looking forward to this movie, if for no other reason than Pitt is not so manly and Clooney is not so serious.

  • Alicia

    I can hardly wait to see this tomorrow. Brad Pitt was also pretty good in the Guy Ritchie film, “Snatch.” When he loosens up he is great fun, as opposed to the terrible, stiff performances he gave in “Interview with a Vampire” and “Troy.”
    I adore John Malkovich and I like George Clooney, Frances McDormand and all the other actors in this movie. Richard Jenkins deserves to have his career take off since he’s been so good for so long in character roles.

  • http://Disappointing Heather

    This movie was stupid. It ended, with me wondering what this movie was really about. I got lost in all the profanity, promiscuity and violence. Terrible waste of money and time.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks, Heather. The Coen brothers’ movies are not for everyone. They have a very dark sensibility. I appreciate your comments which will be of a lot of help to people trying to decide whether this movie is right for them.

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