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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Burn After Reading': The Coen Brothers' Clever Tale of Deceit, Extortion and Clandestine Operations

Movie poster for Burn After Reading (2008)

Burn After Reading (2008) is a clever and engaging black comedy that follows Osborne Cox (John Malkovich), a recently fired CIA analyst, after his decision to write a tell-all memoir. Cox's world is turned upside down when his uncensored confessions fall into the hands of Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), a disgruntled gym employee, and her dimwitted coworker Chad (Brad Pitt).

Mistaking the contents of Cox's manuscript for classified information, Chad and Linda devise a plan to blackmail Cox for a hefty sum of money. However, their bumbling efforts at extortion catch the attention of U.S. Marshal Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) who becomes entangled in the situation through his ongoing affair with Cox's wife Katie (Tilda Swinton). As the CIA desperately attempts to recover Cox's memoir, the film descends into a darkly comedic whirlwind of mistaken identities, botched schemes and escalating chaos.

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men), Burn After Reading is an often-hilarious exploration of human folly and subterfuge. The Coens lend their trademark eccentricity to the proceedings, while the full ensemble perfectly captures their signature blend of dark humor and absurdity. A sharply-pitched satire, it's a film that leaves you humorously questioning the overall meaning we attach to our actions in a world that seems increasingly nonsensical.


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