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Parents' Guide to

Burn After Reading

By S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Quirky, violent Coen comedy isn't meant for kids.

Movie R 2008 96 minutes
Burn After Reading Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 12 parent reviews

age 15+
age 14+
It’s truly underrated, with an insane ending and great characters. There are two brief instances of violence that cut away quickly (despite being bloody). Played for laughs, though dark. There’s also an easily skippable scene with a “sex chair”, as well as an extremely brief sex scene in the dark. Definitely not for everyone, it’s really an acquired taste but I like it a lot!

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (12 ):
Kids say (22 ):

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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