Imagine a group of dunderheaded Americans who think they would benefit from a covert alliance with the Russian government. They make overtures to that country’s ambassador, blithely ignorant that they’ll be monitored by U.S. intelligence. A series of cascading mistakes ultimately brings disaster crashing down on their heads.
That might sound like a summary of the latest news about the White House, but it is also the plot of Burn After Reading, the 2008 film that stands as singularly prophetic of the Trump era. The Coen Brothers’ black comedy echoes this unique period in history not only because of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russian operatives, but the wider culture of deceit that made Donald Trump’s rise possible. More than just a satire on espionage, the movie is a scathing critique of modern America as a superficial, post-political society where cheating of all sorts comes all too easily.