A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Everyone in the movie is a liar, pursuing selfish ends. Husbands and wives cheat on each other; one man trolls online dating sites for sex partners and then lies shamelessly to get them into bed; another hides the fact that he's been fired; and two other people try to pass themselves off as spies to sell stolen documents. Even the characters who initially seem like good people end up displaying their darker, pettier side.
Violence & Scariness
Several moments of violence -- involving fists, guns, knives, and an axe -- pop up so suddenly that they're quite startling. The fights are realistic, bloody, and gory. People are killed, their bodies disposed of. Some characters also use cars as weapons, intentionally ramming into other vehicles.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some scenes show people having sex -- sound effects, but no nudity. The couples are shown talking in bed afterward, presumably naked under the covers. One character builds an elaborate sex chair with an extremely crass sexual accessory, which he shows off to a date.
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Plenty of swearing, including "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and more. Every character's vocabulary is liberally peppered with curses.
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Products & Purchases
Some brands of alcohol are referred to by name and/or shown on screen. Several characters' cars are shown repeatedly, including their logos. One fitness-obsessed man is insulted when his fancy bike is described as a "Schwinn." He's also practically glued to his iPod. There are mentions of PCs, Macs, and Gatorade, as well as logos for Safeway, 7-Eleven, and Tropicana.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Osborne Cox drinks often, and some scenes show him carefully preparing his beverages. In several scenes, he's clearly drunk. A coworker says Cox has a drinking problem, sending him into a rage.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this quirky comic thriller has much in common with others in the Coen brothers' canon: It's very funny and very violent. There's plenty of sex (though not much nudity) and swearing ("f--k"s galore), and characters drink, like, manipulate, and whatever else they need to do to promote their own selfish interests. But teens may still want to see it, both because it stars Brad Pitt and George Clooney and because so many of the Coens' previous comedies have become cult favorites (Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski). To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Wickedly funny and plainly outrageous, BURN AFTER READING gleefully takes potshots at spy films, making a big deal out of nothing, really. The farce begins with the opening credits' satellite pictures and sinister footfalls and doesn't let up from there. In the Coens' zany universe, nothing is sacred -- not marriage, not friendship, not even the CIA. Violence punctuates the jokes (you'll laugh; you can't help it). The brothers have assembled an incomparable cast, mixing up a potent dark comedy potion. Start with Pitt (as funny as he's ever been), then add a dash of Swinton, a swig of Clooney, and plenty of Malkovich for good measure. But it's really McDormand who owns the film; Linda is so desperate and yet so likeable that the madness she cooks up is almost palatable.
Still, Burn After Reading is no Fargo. For all its cheek, it's not actually all that brazen. It doesn't push the envelope far enough -- at least for a Coen brothers movie. It lacks a certain amount inspiration and, well, to paraphrase one character, a point. Not that having a point is a must. But when characters are expended as blithely as they are here, you can't help asking that question. Then again, maybe we don't always need a reason to laugh out loud.
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Our Editors Recommend
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