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By Lucy Cox on 22.10.2023

Review – Burn After Reading

‘Burn After Reading’ is the latest film from writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen. It stars George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and Brad Pitt.

One thing great about all Coen brothers films is the plot. It is usually the perfect mixture of cause and effect logic combined with the random chance of real life, which together make for a really fresh story; the kind that makes sense but not quite like you have seen before. In this case however there is a very good reason you may not have seen a film like this before – and it’s the same reason you may not see one again.

‘Burn After Reading’ is a hard film to swallow; it has an extremely slow and difficult introduction, with little to explain itself. Running on super economy, there is not a single piece of information you get that you wont need to help understand it. Anyone else trying to get this film released would have an uphill struggle, but riding high on their Oscar™ win last year, and with a cast very few directors could assemble, Joel and Ethan Coen are the reason this film is a one off. A plot this sparse is hard work for an audience, even with the handy interludes by the men in the C.I.A office which reassure us that the fact that we don’t know what the hell is going on is perfectly fine.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it though. The film is achingly self aware in every second of its length and it understands its market so well it appears to mock it constantly, as if to say “is this not what you want?” From getting Brad Pitt to act like a dancing moron, to the tense thriller music pumping through even the most inane of exposition scenes, this film checks all the boxes for enjoyment, excitement, action, humour and romance whilst not delivering on any of them.

If I didn’t know better I’d say they did a bad job, but there’s a confidence that comes with the Coen name that makes you want to believe that isn’t the case, and it is vital in making you take a closer look. Accept their films at face value and there always appears to be something missing, scratch the surface though and their play on genre, cast, and even audience is a rich banquet of brain food. It’s this reason that such a stellar cast were involved and the women in the cast really steal the show. Tilda Swinton is magnificent as always but Frances McDormand can safely shrug off all suggestions that she only got the part because she is married to the director, with her superb turn as the shallow and idiotic Linda.

As with all Coen films, the undercurrent of American society and politics is ever present and this parable about how silly people have destroyed themselves with their own intelligent brand of stupidity is no different. This film wont be for everyone; it’s not as exciting or funny as it has been billed, but it is an absolutely refreshing escape from the empty yet ever-present blockbusters that fill our summer months. So if you often come out of a cinema wondering where those minutes of your life went, don’t expect this film to be the adrenaline pumping kick you feel your life needs. However, if you have the patience, you might come out thinking you have seen a magnificent modern farce, or at the very least, something that dares to be a little different.


  • Excellent review. Very well written. I really enjoyed this film. I was a little disappointed when I heard they were reverting back to their old style after No Country but was pleasantly surprised with this effort. Let’s hope they keep up the standard.

    The women stealing the show though? Personally it was the male characters that made the film for me.

    By Chris on 3.11.2023

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