What we get with Burn After Reading is a situation where the individual parts are so good, but their sum just doesn't quite add up. It's tough for me to say that because it's an enjoyable and amusing film, but in the end, you really won't care. The film is quick. The shots are quick. We see little scenes that act as 5 second gags where we don't learn anything about the plot, or really anything about the characters, it's just 5 seconds to see Brad Pitt wave his arms on the treadmill. There's a lot of that. I don't want to slag off Brad Pitt specifically, because he was probably the second best part of the movie (behind John Malkovich). The plot seems a little confusing here, so I'll breeze over it and hope that you get most of it. John Malkovich quits the CIA to write a memoir. A CD of some of his personal information winds up in the hands of gym workers Brad Pitt (hilariously dumb) and Frances McDormand (very annoying at first but she grows on you). They try to blackmail him, and while that's going on, his wife (Tilda Swinton) and George Clooney (big ladies man) have an affair, and Clooney and McDormand also meet over the internet. Nothing really happens with the plot. There's a lot of quirk in the characters, and some surprises, but the movie ends before you ever feel satisfied. I can't think of a bad performance, and even the supporting players were great, but you just get the feeling that with a little more to chew on, the movie could've been a great meal. It's definitely not the Big Lebowski, or Raising Arizona, or Fargo, or O Brother...
As J.K. Simmons, playing a CIA Superior, perfectly sums up:
CIA Superior: So what did we learn from this?
CIA Officer: Um... I don't know.
CIA Superior: I don't fuckin' know either.