Burn After Reading (2008)


Written by Joel and Ethan; directed by Ethan and Joel; produced by Joel and Ethan

When CIA analyst Osbourne Cox loses his job, he decides to write his memoirs – but the sensitive document falls into the hands of two gym workers, who plan to blackmail him…

Seen before? Yes, on DVD about three years ago.

Best performance: The headline five – sex addict George Clooney, self-doubter Frances McDormand, angry John Malkovich, childlike Brad Pitt and severe Tilda Swinton – are all terrific.

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): McDormand (6), Clooney (3), Richard Jenkins (3) and JK Simmons (2).

Best bit: When Linda and Chad attempt to extort money from Cox.

Review: There’s a really odd clash of tones in this one. It begins like a Tony Scott techno-thriller (something like Enemy of the State or Spy Game). There are shades of One Foot in the Grave in Cox’s forced-retirement blues. It’s partly a twisted romcom, at times like a 1970s paranoia thriller, and becomes more Hitchcock-esque the longer it goes on. Despite (or maybe because of) this, whenever the script hits a crossroads it turns down the road with the fewest clichés, which keeps it interesting. Perhaps the film loses its way at the death (the end is sudden and perfunctory), but mostly it’s enormous fun.

Eight sex swings out of 10.

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