Be aware that Burn After Reading does indeed earn its R rating.  Malkovich and Pitt are prone to profane sprees (Malkovich with rage, Pitt with casual cluelessness), graphic violence often comes unexpectedly, and the sexual peccadilloes of Clooney’s Harry drive him to construct what can only be described as a homemade sex machine.  Though a simple contraption that’s never used and only revealed in one scene, the nature of it will certainly offend those who don’t find it funny (though it’s played for laughs, not titillation), especially given the “toy” that serves as the primary instrument of the device.  But again, these are all traits of empty, desperate people whose moral centers have gone corrupt, and the absurdity lies in how absolutely blind they are to that fact. 

Near the end, after events have spiraled completely out of control, a CIA director (whose only stress relief comes from the knowledge that people have died without a trace) asks a fellow officer “What did we learn here?”  Their answer:  “Not to do it again.”  That’s a plain-spoken way of delivering the film’s key themes:  Be humble.  Stop flirting with temptation.  You can’t control events because you can’t predict consequences, and be careful of every decision you make before you find that each one was digging your own grave.  That the film elicits big laughs on the path to contemplating those truths makes it truly Coen-esque.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Alcohol consumption is present, but not to any great degree.
  • Language/Profanity:  All levels of profanity used throughout, especially by John Malkovich and Brad Pitt.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  A brief bedroom sex scene, though it excludes nudity.  Close-ups of Frances McDormand’s body during visit with cosmetic surgeon, but nothing offensive or revealing.  The one offensive sexual element is the simple homemade “sex machine” made by Clooney’s character, and it utilizes a device commonly found in adult-oriented stores.  It’s never used, just seen (in one scene).
  • Violence/Other:  Though violence isn’t constant throughout, it does become graphic.  Point-blank/bloody shootings occur, as does an ax attack late in the film.  Although seen at a distance and only briefly, the attack is cold and brutal.  Also, the most extreme acts of violence happen unexpectedly, which make them all the more shocking.

 

Jeffrey Huston is a film director, writer and producer at Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Okla.  He is also cohost of  the "Steelehouse Podcast,” along with Steelehouse Executive Creative Mark Steele, where each week they discuss God in pop culture. 

To listen to the weekly podcast, please visit www.steelehouse.com or click here.  You can also subscribe to the "Steelehouse Podcast” through iTunes.