Sat. Oct 1st, 2022

When I saw the preview for the movie “Burn After Reading” several months ago, I was immediately intrigued. Here was a preview that was playing one of the best songs by one of my favorite ridiculously obscure indie bands (“Grounds for Divorce” by Elbow). I’ve been waiting for months to see the movie that could possibly make me actually like Brad Pitt, and it did not disappoint, for the most part. Pitt certainly was funny, playing a ridiculous gym employee named Chad in Washington D.C. who discovers a disc filled with a CIA analyst’s memoirs. Pitt and his fellow employee, Linda, played by Frances McDormand, hatch a plot to use the memoirs as leverage to get money… aka commit blackmail. The movie starts out very funny – with the introduction of George Clooney as Harry, the insufferable ladies’ man who is sleeping with Malkovich’s wife, the staunch and decidedly cold Dr. Cox (played by Tilda Swinton). Sound complicated? It was. Everyone is sleeping with everyone else (as the CIA agents who are following this insane cast of characters aptly notes). Everyone ends up divorced and only one character actually achieves their goal.

Its hard to go wrong with such an all-star cast, and the movie actually did soften my feelings towards Pitt. Usually I shy away from any movie featuring him (I can’t help it, I think he’s all hype), but he was absolutely hilarious as the dim-witted Chad. Chad and Linda make a phenomenal team, attempting to sell the memoirs to the Russians. Why? Well, no one really knows. Clooney does an excellent job of playing a smooth ladies’ man, romancing four women, including his wife, in the movie. The movie veers off in an even more strange direction when Harry unveils his “gift” for his wife to Linda. What this gift was, well, this is a G-rated newspaper. John Malkovich’s Osborne Cox had a catchy signature line (“what the f***” was his most frequently uttered phrase) and was played to comic perfection as a raving lunatic wielding a hatchet and living on a boat. Tilda Swinton’s Dr. Cox, perfectly described as a “cold, hard b****” by most of the characters, was a physician I would never consider sending my child to.

But the real star of the movie was Linda. Linda is the only character throughout the movie that seems to get what she wants.

She finds love in Harry, despite his marital status, and seems to be hatching a brilliant plot with her partner in crime, Chad. Linda is obsessed with getting plastic surgery, from the very beginning of the movie. She wants to sell the memoirs to finance her liposuction, breast augmentation, and face lift, amongst other procedures. She attempts to get the money for her “surgeries” any way she can, and is ultimately successful in this (thanks to the CIA who offer to pay her off so she doesn’t tell anyone what has transpired). More power to you, Linda.

One disturbing trend that “Burn After Reading” seemed to adhere to was the incorporation of extreme violence into comedies.

I knew that this movie was considered a dark comedy, but it turned out to be more of a “tragicomedy” than anything. If such a genre exists, this movie perfectly fits it. Without being a spoiler, several of the main characters end up dead.

I almost lost interest when one in particular was shot. To make matters worse, several more end up being served with divorce papers throughout the course of the movie.

Everyone is cheating on everyone. Osborne Cox’s bank accounts have been cleaned out, and the locks changed on his house.

Even the bumbling antics of the characters are eclipsed by the underlying tragedies occurring in each person’s respective life.

This seems to be a common theme in movies as of late. When I went to see “Pineapple Express,” I was expecting stoner antics (like the previews hinted at), but I was surprised when the movie escalated into a violent shoot-em-up film. “Burn After Reading” follows in this vein, with disturbingly graphic violence in several scenes.

The characters don’t seem capable of such acts from outward appearances, but they reveal different sides of themselves as the movie progresses. Only Linda seems to remain true to her personality.

The ending of the movie is possibly the most appropriate ending of any movie I’ve ever seen. The movie ends where it begins, at the CIA headquarters, with the agents who have been tracking the cast throughout the movie mulling over what has occurred. No one seems to know and, just like the CIA agents, the audience is left stumped.

However, I did not feel cheated. I felt like the Coen brothers were displaying a bit of genius with this ending.

While it may not make total sense, “Burn After Reading” is an intriguing movie with hilarious personalities played to a tee, and a hidden complex plot.

A definite must-see for those who don’t mind being led on a wild goose chase of epic proportions by some of the most talented actors and actresses of recent years.

Amanda Warren is a third-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at

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