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Burn After Reading (2008)

Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, ... | FROM L to R: RICHARD JENKINS, FRANCES MCDORMAND, BRAD PITT
FROM L to R: RICHARD JENKINS, FRANCES MCDORMAND, BRAD PITT

Details Release Date: Sep 12, 2008; Rated: R; Length: 96 Minutes; Genres: Comedy, Mystery and Thriller; With: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt; Distributor: Focus Features

The Coen brothers' follow-up to their Best Picture-winning No Country for Old Men is — no surprise for this offbeat filmmaking duo — its polar opposite. A sort of Fargo on helium, Burn is a goofball crime caper about two dim-witted gym employees (Pitt and Frances McDormand) who try to extort a curmudgeonly CIA agent (Malkovich) after they come across a CD-ROM containing possibly classified information. A-list names like Clooney and Pitt may sell the most tickets, but it's the potty-mouthed Malkovich who easily racks up the most laughs. "The first scene I did was a phone call with Brad and Frances," says Malkovich, whose character drops countless F-bombs throughout the film. "Unfortunately, I couldn't be there on the soundstage because I was rehearsing a play. So I did it from an apartment in Paris. It was really late at night and I was screaming at the top of my lungs. God knows what the neighbors thought."

Also along for the ride is newly minted Academy Award winner Swinton, as Malkovich's testy wife, while Clooney plays her scheming lover — though that doesn't mean the former Michael Clayton adversaries, who filmed Burn during last year's Oscar-campaign season, have the best onscreen relationship this go-around, either. Recalls Swinton: "At the end of the shoot, George said, touchingly, wistfully, 'Well, maybe one day we'll get to make a film together when we say one nice thing to each other.'"
OUR TWO CENTS Burn After Reading won't earn the Coens a return trip to the Kodak Theatre, but it's quite a hoot to watch this crop of Oscar favorites cut up.

DEEP DIVE Burn's theatrical trailer is by necessity a bit tame; its red-band version does a superior job of capturing the film’s naughty and wacky comedy.

See a clip of EW’s Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum discussing this film

Originally posted Aug 13, 2008 Published in issue #1007-1008 Aug 22, 2008 Order article reprints