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Barton Fink (1991)

  Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Written by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Judy Davis, John Goodman, John Turturro
Links: Barton Fink on the IMDb, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video
Genre: Drama

This movie gets: 7.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Sure leaves you finking!" - a review by mino

For such a freaky-looking man — and one who has spent most of his filmmaking career playing idiots, the deformed, psychos, pederasts, sycophants, wimps, and other folk who are either freakishly annoying or just plain freakish, John Turturro really is an incredible actor. No matter how loathsome the characters he plays, whether leading or supporting, he manages to sucker you right in and absolutely dominate your attention in a way few other actors can. From Herbie Stempel in Quiz Show (1994) to the butler from Mr. Deeds (2002), Turturro's characters are quite often the main thing you remember from a movie.

Rarely is this more true than in the case of a Joel Coen and Ethan Coen film. Of all Turturro's memorable characters, the snivelling Bernie Bernbaum from Miller's Crossing (1990) and (of course) Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski (1998) are certainly two of the most notable. In Barton Fink (made shortly after Miller's Crossing), the Coens give Turturro an all-too-rare lead role, and, unsurprisingly, he impresses.

Barton Fink is, needless to say, very different from other Coen films. I say ‘needless to say’ because, more than probably most filmmakers, the Coens tackle such totally different film styles when they make movies, from romantic comedy to gangster movie to film noir, that no two of their films are really even vaguely similar, let alone alike. The Barton Fink of the title is a rather tortured playwright who, on the strength of one good review, is snapped up by Hollywood and offered a plum job as a screenwriter.

At first, he's fêted as the next big thing and his new boss, studio president Jack Lipnick, is overjoyed to have him on board. Barton's low-rent hotel surroundings, though, aren't conducive to producing good work — despite the presence of the man in the next room, feisty insurance salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman, who is always — always — brilliant), who does his best to help Barton out. Soon Lipnick turns nasty, and Barton's struggles to produce his first screenplay — a studio-dictated wrestling picture — get him nowhere. Hollywood isn't nearly as friendly as it seems at first, and Barton falls into a deep funk.

Then, things get weird. It's hard to say too much without ruining the movie, but Barton gets caught up in a whirlwind of sex and violence, and his life is tipped upside-down. No-one in his life is quite what they seem — very likely including himself.

At first, Barton Fink will probably seem like a pretentious arthouse wank, with some long and tedious monologues about Hollywood, the creative process, and life in general. About halfway through, though, Barton Fink becomes something very different, and does so with a jolt which is not dissimilar to that hit at the halfway point of Mulholland Dr. (2001). The movie gets very strange very quickly, and builds to an ending that at first seems irrelevant and inconsequential — but, like Mulholland Dr., it will gnaw at you for days, leaving you to ponder what the hell it all means.

Barton Fink is, let's face it, no Fargo (1996) or Intolerable Cruelty (2003). It's a lot less accessible, and I'm sure a lot of people will find it either dull or infuriating (if not both). If you're in the right mood for a couple of big ol' spoonfuls of food-for-thought, though, with more than a sprinkling of allegory, it's a very good place to look. And goddamn, that Turturro is a fine actor.

mino gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 11 Aug 2004

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Reader comments

  1. Cerebral

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from ? on Sun 22 May 2005 14:48 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 10.00 (1 rating)

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