I first saw this in college and I remember everyone I was with hated it so I never really thought of it again. I remember being a little confused but my expectations were very high as it is a Coen brothers movie. Watching it again I think it’s fantastic.
Before I think I was expecting something more along the lines of Fargo or something. A crime movie that is intense, scary, and engaging. Burn After Reading is kind of those things but it’s never really too serious. So many of the intense moments of this film end up being brushed off like nothing happened. It kind of reminds me of Spring Breakers in that way. How all the girls had to do to escape everything was just to get on a bus to leave. In this world, terrible stuff will happen, but the government ends up helping cover it up unbeknownst to everyone else.
I’m really glad we watched this and if you saw this once and disliked it I really recommend trying it again!
One of the things I love about The Big Lebowski is that it’s essentially about . . . nothing, really. There’s a convoluted plot that all stems from mistaken identity, involving more and more people as the plot thickens. And that’s also why I love Burn After Reading.
Burn After Reading takes a darker look at the whole “it’s about nothing” concept, because there are much more serious consequences here. Just as The Big Lebowski really begins because thieves, mistaking The Dude for another Lebowski, pee on The Dude’s rug, Burn After Reading really begins when a janitor finds a CD. The janitor works at a gym, where Linda (Frances McDormand), Chad (Brad Pitt), and Ted (Richard Jenkins) also all work. The CD is full of documents that appear to be important and appear to belong to someone important, so Linda and Chad try to get some kind of reward money out of finding and returning the CD. The reward money is of the upmost importance to Linda, who is desperate to get multiple plastic surgery procedures.
In reality, the CD contains information pertaining to the divorce of Osbourne (John Malkovich) and Katie (Tilda Swinton). When Linda and Chad cryptically call Osbourne to tell him they “have his shit,” Osbourne assumes they’ve stolen the memoir he’s working on. Katie is also cheating on Osbourne with Harry (George Clooney), who also begins dating Linda, though no one knows anyone else is involved.
Everyone is chasing something, but it’s usually the wrong thing. And everyone is somehow involved with each other, they just don’t all know it. And no one really knows what they’re doing: Osbourne doesn’t even know what’s missing and Linda and Chad have no way of knowing that A.) What they found was important or B.) That anyone would give them any kind of reward. The situation gets worse and more complicated until it ends with Chad murdered by Harry, Ted murdered by Osbourne, and Osbourne in a coma (after being shot by a CIA agent watching over him) indefinitely. As Linda is the last real link to the situation, the CIA keeps her quiet by paying for all of her surgeries. So in the end, the only real clear goal (Linda getting surgeries) was the only one that was achieved.
The Coen Brothers are so good at filmmaking and storytelling that it’s ridiculous. This movie could not have been handled by anyone else without it falling apart into a huge, indecipherable mess. And everyone is totally on point, from Tilda Swinton, who doesn’t have a huge role, to Brad Pitt, who nearly steals every scene he’s in. In fact, Brad Pitt’s character is my favorite part of the movie, I think. He’s childish and positive, but without being annoying somehow. It’s really amazing.