It is easy to look at "Burn After Reading" as nothing more than a dismissible attempt by the Coen's to lighten up after last year's classy, "No country" - that this is slight, pulp cinema, a chance for friends behind the camera to get together onscreen and just have some fun. "Burn" works on this level, but also deeper, as a diabolic satire of espionage and spy films; of threats posed by government agencies and of the plight of characters who we are able to relate to and feel sorry for, up until realizing that their motives are much darker, much more nihilistic.
In the grand tradition of other zany, crazy Coen films like "The big Lebowski" or even "Raising Arizona", "Burn After Reading" is uproariously funny – but it is also menacingly cold when it needs to be. The plot turns are characteristically incredulous and difficult to describe without sounding overly complex, but the film is engaging enough to be easily followed. Like they've done in the past, the brother duo take on yet another classic genre and add idiosyncrasies that are their own. The film works like a spy film – when George Clooney feels threatened by public observers in a park, it evokes memories of Gene Hackman from "The Conversation"; when John Malkovich is downgraded from his present duties with the CIA, you sense a greater government conspiracy at work. Then there are the brushes with the Russian embassy, CIA agents, lawyers chasing clients, marital cheating – it feels like a lot is happening, but it never gets out of hand. How the writer/director team manages to make both the comedy and the drama work is proof of their unquestionable talent. The film won't be winning them any awards, but it serves a cold concoction of memorable characters in these wildly unforgettable situations that you're bound to recall all of it with a smile. - Faizan Rashid