What You Need To Know:
BURN AFTER READING has many goofy characters caught in funny situations, but an abundant number of “f” words sprinkle the dialogue. There is strong sexual content as well as two spurts of extreme bloody violence. Though the ultimate message of the movie seems to be a comical warning about the sinfulness of the human race, the movie’s obscene, offensive content obscures that positive message. The Coen Brothers could have toned down the obscene content greatly and still created a movie that’s just as funny.
(PaPa, H, B, LLL, VVV, SS, NN, AA, D, MM) Strong mixed pagan worldview with some humanist qualities and a biblical quality that implicitly points out the sinfulness of the human race, in a comical, ironic way; 106 obscenities (mostly “f” words and the “s” word including about 11 “f” words in song over the final credits), nine strong profanities and 17 light exclamatory profanities; some extreme but brief bloody violence includes man accidentally shot in head in a relative close up, man tries to shoot another man, man breaks into house by busting glass on back door, and man hatchets another man to death in a medium shot; strong sexual content includes depicted fornication in one scene, implied adultery in other scenes, and a large sex toy is demonstrated twice; realistic pink-colored rubber phallus is shown twice in demonstration of a large sex toy, rear female nudity in plastic surgeon’s office and upper male nudity; alcohol use and drunkenness; smoking; and, blackmail, cheating, divorce proceedings, paranoia, American couple tries to sell alleged secrets to the Russians, Internet dating, repeated uncontrollable anger to the point of violence in one scene, and man gets angry at Mormon CIA agent who tells him that he has a drinking problem but movie shows later than man does indeed have a drinking problem.
BURN AFTER READING is a foray into black comedy by the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan. Though it’s set in the world of espionage, the movie is really a dark treatise on the silly follies of the human race, rather than any political message about the CIA.
The movie opens with Osborne “Ozzie” Cox, a long-time, graying CIA analyst played by John Malkovich, being demoted. Ozzie goes berserk, however, and angrily storms out of the office in a string of obscenities.
That night, however, his demanding, autocratic wife, Katie (played by Tilda Swinton), won’t let him get a word in edgewise about how he quit his job. She’s more concerned about the party she has scheduled. One of the guests at the party, a Treasury department agent named Harry, played by George Clooney, is having a secret affair with Katie. Katie wants to divorce Ozzie, but her lawyer tells her to copy all of his financial records on his computer. She does so, but she also copies the spy memoir Ozzie is writing.
Meanwhile, across town at the Hardbodies Gym, middle-aged instructor, played by Frances McDormand, is desperate to get a series of plastic surgeries to halt the aging process. The secretary of Katie’s lawyer accidentally drops the CD of Ozzie’s memoir on the floor at Hardbodies, and the janitor finds it. Linda and Chad, another goofy gym instructor played by Brad Pitt, decide that Ozzie is sure to give them a nice reward for discovering his lost memoir. They are so incompetent about doing it, however, that Ozzie thinks they’re trying to blackmail him. Ozzie gets incredibly angry and refuses to give them any “reward” money. So, Linda and Chad decide to sell the CD to the Russians, but the Russians want to see even more information. Chad goes to Ozzie’s house to get more secrets, but while he’s there, he sees Ozzie’s wife and Harry together.
More comical complications ensue, leading to abrupt acts of violence, intentional and unintentional.
BURN AFTER READING has many goofy characters caught in funny situations, but an abundant number of “f” words sprinkle the dialogue. There is also strong sexual content as well as two spurts of extreme bloody violence. The ultimate message, however, seems to be a comical warning the folly of the human race. Thus, the movie portrays, in a comical, ironic way, the sinful nature of man. However positive this message may be, most viewers probably will ignore it, because the message is implied and somewhat subtle rather than explicit.
The Coen Brothers could have toned down the foul language, sex and violence a lot in BURN AFTER READING and still created a movie that’s just as funny as this one, if not more so. They also could have made the positive messages in their black comedy more explicit and more powerful, if not redemptive. MOVIEGUIDE® even might like to see such a movie from them, but BURN AFTER READING is not up to that level.