The Coen Brothers return with a comedic spy-thriller plotline involving disgraced CIA analyst Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich), his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), her lover (George Clooney), two simple gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances Mc Dormand) and a classified CD.
Osbourne Cox quits his job with the CIA after being demoted because of his drinking problem. He decides to write a memoir, which his wife, at the counsel of her divorce lawyer, copies onto disc. Katie's divorce lawyer's receptionist accidentally leaves the disc at Hardbodies, where employee, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) gets hold of it. Along with his fellow employee Linda Litzke (McDormand), he intends to use the disk to blackmail Osbourne. Treasury agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), Katie's lover, becomes entangled when he finds Chad in Katie's house and accidentally shoots him.
The film cascades along, further interweaving characters with plot, to a climactic end, where a CIA official (JK Simmons), tells a functionary to report back to him only when "it all makes sense." Deliberately pocking fun at American culture, Burn After Reading never does make sense.