With Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers channel Evelyn Waugh.
Gym bunny Chad and grasping Linda discover a cd rom on the floor of the changing rooms at the Hard Bodies Gym in Washington DC. When they realise it may contain highly sensitive CIA information, they proceed to try to flog it to the highest bidder. It’s actually the worthless novelised memoirs of Osborne Cox (Malkovitch), but the greed and misunderstandings set into motion an unstoppable series of tragi-comic events.
Set against the cruel infidelities, the blithe dismissiveness, the amoral ruthlessness, the stupidity, of the Washington DC / Georgetown “intelligence” set, Burn After Reading is by no means the Coen Brother’s best work. But like Waugh, the moment they make you laugh, they also make you gasp with shock and even horror. The innocent die quickly, the noxious escape unscathed. This is not a comfortable film. But it is funny.
Inspite of the strong Maryland / DC locations, Burn After Reading principally filmed in Brooklyn, so that the directors could remain close to their homes and families – another one of the myriad of frustrating influences that affect a of choice of production location, and over which no-one has any say.