Burn After Reading

  • Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • Producers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  • Genres: Comedy, Crime, Drama
  • Actors: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt

Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) is a CIA analyst who quits his job at the agency after being demoted, ostensibly because of a drinking problem. He then decides to write a memoir about his life in the CIA. His wife, pediatrician Katie Cox (Tilda Swinton), wants to divorce Osborne and, at the counsel of her divorce lawyer, she copies many of his personal and financial files off his computer and onto a compact disc. The lawyer’s receptionist accidentally leaves the disc at Hardbodies, a health club. After her husband is served with divorce papers, Katie changes the locks to keep him out of their house.

Two employees of the gym, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) and Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) obtain the disc from the gym’s custodian. Seeing the content of the memoir, they assume that it is highly classified information. Initially Chad and Linda plan to give the disk back to Osborne hoping for a reward, intending to use the money to pay for Linda’s cosmetic surgery. However, after a confusing phone conversation and fury on Osborne’s part, their original plan descends into a blackmail attempt. Chad meets Osborne, who, aware that the “information” is merely his memoirs, refuses to pay and punches Chad in the nose. Linda decides to take the information to the Russian embassy. At the embassy, she hands the disk over to the Russians, promising that she will give more information afterward. Because they don’t actually have any more information, they decide to break into Osborne’s house to steal more.

The movie ends at CIA headquarters, where the official and his director are trying to sort out what happened: Chad and Ted are dead and Osborne is in a vegetative state after being shot by a CIA operative who had been tasked with observing him. The agent felt he could not stand by while Osborne was killing a man in broad daylight. Harry and Linda have been arrested; Harry was caught trying to board a flight to Venezuela, but the director decides to let him go to get him out of their hair. Linda promises to remain silent if the CIA will finance her plastic surgery. The baffled CIA agents agree to her terms.

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