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HTF DVD REVIEW: Burn After Reading (1 Viewer)

Kevin EK

Senior HTF Member
May 9, 2003


Studio: Universal (released via Focus Features)
Original Release: 2008
Length: 1 hour 36 mins
Genre: Comedy/Coen Brothers

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Color/B&W: Color

English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: R (Language, Violence, Sexual Content, Coen Brothers)

Release Date: December 21, 2008

Rating: 2 ½ :star: :star: ½

Starring: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins and Brad Pitt with cameos by David Rasche and J.K. Simmons

Written, Produced and Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Burn After Reading is the Coen brother’s follow-up to last year’s Best Picture, No Country For Old Men. As such, it’s a complete change of pace, returning them to more familiar territory. The characters here, mostly written specifically for this cast, are a group of middle-aged (and older) people who think they are smarter than they really are, and whose ineptitude gets them into a series of criss-crossing capers and hijinks. There really isn’t any more to the movie than that – it’s certainly not a spy caper, regardless of the advertising. It’s essentially a mousetrap, where the characters get repeatedly stuck while trying to grab the cheese the Coen brothers wave at them. This isn’t to say the movie isn’t fun. On the contrary, there’s a lot of fun here, mostly in watching Brad Pitt and George Clooney embrace their inner goofballs, and in watching John Malkovich embrace the futile rage of his character. There are some funny scenes along the way, and the Coen brothers thankfully refrain from getting too showy with their cameras. But like the ashes of the title material, the material here will fade from your memory rather quickly after you eject the DVD.

VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5 :star: :star: :star:

Burn After Reading is presented in a bright anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that shows accurate flesh tones and detail throughout. Black levels look solid, and textures of everything from the wardrobe to the diverse locations come through nicely. Like the film itself, it’s not showy – but it works very well.

AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5 :star: :star: :star:

Burn After Reading is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English and French that locates most of the sound in the front channels. The surround channels get a mixture of music and some atmospheric sounds, but the emphasis goes toward the front of the room. (This is understandable, given that the focus in the film is in the dialogue and the characterizations, rather than from the locations or atmospheric effects.)

SPECIAL FEATURES: 2 ½/5 :star: :star: ½

Burn After Reading comes with three featurettes, totalling under 22 minutes. They’re fun to watch and they do give a pretty good picture of what it’s like to work with the Coen Brothers, but there’s nothing in depth here. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible to watch the whole movie and the special features in about 2 hours.

Finding the Burn (5:30, Anamorphic) – This is a quick introduction to the Coen brothers, with the writer/director team explaining in interview snippets, in their trademark deadpan fashion, how they work. Interview bits are also included with the main cast, along with some on-set video of the gang at work. All the parties agree that the brothers are very clear about what they want and are firm about how they get it. (Clooney has a great quote about how they’ll allow an actor to do a couple of takes “his way” before they ask him to do it “their way” – and their way is inevitably what will be in the movie.

DC Insiders Run Amok (12:22, Anamorphic) – This is another brief collection of interview pieces, film clips and on-set video, with the participants discussing how the cast was assembled. A little time is devoted to each principal cast member, with most of the cast discussing their roles and costume designer Mary Zophres discussing the specific costume look for each character.

Welcome Back, George (2:50, Anamorphic) – This quick featurette covers the latest appearance by George Clooney in a Coen film. They and he readily admit the parts they tend to write for him are “morons.” Clooney himself refers to the films he has made with the brothers as “my trilogy of idiots.”

When the disc is put into the machine, a series of non-anamorphic trailers are presented for the DVD release of Hamlet 2, the theatrical release of Milk, the recent DVD re-release of The Big Lebowski, the DVD sets and broadcasts of The Office, the Universal Blu-ray trailer, and finally, Beethoven’s Big Break.

Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. (The disc jacket indicates that the special features are not all subtitled, but this is not correct. I found subtitles in all 3 languages on all 3 featurettes.) A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.


Burn After Reading is a funny diversion, and a nice way to see this cast perform a series of roles they might not normally play – particularly Clooney and Pitt. Fans of the Coen brothers will certainly want to pick this up. More casual viewers will want to rent this before purchasing.

Kevin Koster
December 18, 2008.

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein
Bought this blindly on Blu-ray this past week.

What an absolute chore to watch this film.

Only one laugh to be had (the chair reveal). The rest? A bunch
of veteran actors trying to chew up the scenery.

In a word, Awful!


Nov 19, 2004
Mos Eisley Spaceport
Real Name
Brett Meyer

I wouldn't go that far but it definitely was missing something. It's hollow. I liked watching it but I would never buy it or revisit it -- a first for me when it comes to the Coens. Fans should rent it, though.


Feb 24, 2007
Real Name
Joe Corey
I was happy to see Sledge Hammer butting up against Vern Schillinger. But what is up with the Coen doing their best to hide the third act action from the audience?

I'm really happy I didn't buy tickets for this and merely had it on the netflix queue.


Senior HTF Member
May 18, 1999
It's an old cliche, but this was two hours of my life I'll never get back.

I'm 100% with Ron on this one. Calling it a chore to watch is almost somewhat charitable.

Luckily a friend got this through Netflix. This isn't even worth the $1 to rent from Redbox.

Jon Martin

Senior HTF Member
Sep 19, 2002
Wow. It is great to read this thread.

So many people liked this film theatrically that I thought I would be alone disliking the film so.

Sam Posten

HW Reviewer
Senior HTF Member
Oct 30, 1997
Aberdeen, MD & Navesink, NJ
Real Name
Sam Posten
I don't think it's a chore but having reviewed the BD I agree that it's not up to the Coen's best. I found a few more funny scenes to be had than just the chair (Pitt being a goofball among them) but the premise was an odd one and at odds with the underlying theme of not being happy with who you are as you race past middle age...

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