Burn After Reading, a dark comedy about Washington bureaucrats and other buffoons, “tries to mate sex farce with a satire of a paranoid political thriller, with arch and ungainly results,” Todd McCarthy writes in Variety. The Coen brothers dial everything up to “an almost grotesquely exaggerated extent … making for a film that feels misjudged from the opening scene and thereafter only occasionally hits the right note.”
Other critics beg to differ. Burn "is a tightly wound, slickly plotted spy comedy," Andrew Pulver writes in the Guardian. "The attention to detail is impeccable: The Coens can even raise a laugh with something as simple as a well-placed photograph," writes Wendy Ide in the Times of London, though she later concedes, "if the film does lack something, it’s warmth."