Saturday, May 10, 2014

Barton Fink review

Barton Fink is sort of the long-lost soul child to Adaptation. Yeah, that seems about right.
For a writer, the worst antagonist, enemy, and foe to do battle with is the blank page. Vast, blank, and intimidating. All those ideas that once bustled and inhabited the busy streets of your conscious mind have long since deserted you. And now you must face the dreaded blank page. The Coen Brother's 1991 film, Barton Fink, is kind of about the fearful blank-page battle. But it's also about so much more. The movie is about a somewhat successful playwright from Brooklyn in 1941, the titular character, Barton Fink (John Turturro). Barton is hired by a big shot producer (Michael Lerner) to write a write a wrestling picture over in Hollywood, despite having never worked on a movie before in his life. He's put up in a shoddy hotel with a nosy but kind neighbor named Charlie (John Goodman), who's "damned interested" in what Barton has to say. When Fink tries to write, he finds he's all blocked up. And that, is when the trouble really begins. I'm a little bit of a huge Coen Brothers fan. I even consider The Big Lebowski and Fargo to be two of my all-time favorite movies. So, it's no surprise to me how much I liked Barton Fink. I've loved practically every thing I've seen by The Coen's, but recently their style has changed ever so slightly. I really liked Inside Llewyn Davis, True Grit, and A Serious Man but they were all departures from the Coen's of Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Burn After Reading was the only one of their newer works to come close to the feel of their older stuff. Their newer films are really good, just different. Barton Fink feels very much like a movie made by Joel and Ethan Coen. I mean that as a sincere compliment. It's stamped with their trademark sharp dialogue (one scene involving private investigators was so funny and well written I practically burst out of my chair laughing) and strange characters, with their usual cool and inventive camera work. It's textbook Coen, yet at the same time it's one of the more original things they've ever done. It feels so much like them, but it's also very fresh and very new. Not that they are ever really stale and old. What I'm saying, is this is so very much a film by Joel and Ethan Coen, but it's not predictable and repetitive of their other works. Barton Fink is a very strange and surreal movie. The ending in particular is up for interpretation. I could go on for hours debating if it's a metaphor for Barton's inner mind or is it a metaphor for hell or what certain things mean, but what would be the point? It's a portrait of a writer, a funny cynical look at Hollywood, and a good old fashioned murder story all wrapped into one. It's like The Coen Brothers got together with Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder and made this movie. And the results are fantastic. In the film, Fink wants to write something from the depths of his soul that will change the way we watch movies and theater. He wants to create a whole new kind of theater for the common man, all while pleasing the critics. The big shot Hollywood producers want him to write a crowd-pleaser filled with all action sequences. The film of Barton Fink isn't exactly either of those, but it is a nice mixture of both. The entire movie is filled with great things. From the whip-smart screenplay to the highly impressive direction. The performances are top-notch too. John Turturro plays Barton Fink quite well and Michael Lerner is hilariously good as the over-the-top movie producer. It's John Goodman who really steals show. He plays a (seemingly) insignificant character by the name of Charlie Meadows, a traveling insurance salesman with stories to tell. Goodman is terrific in his roles and always fun to watch. He's no different here. In fact, I can count his performance in Barton Fink as one of his all-time best. He's that damn good! Michael Lerner was the only actor here who got an Oscar nod, but I think Goodman truly deserved it. Barton Fink is an undisputedly weird movie. It's surrealism and character study wrapped up in a slow burning murder mystery. In no way is it for everyone. The beginning starts off slow, but once it get's going, boy does it go. I really loved Barton Fink. It's not my favorite outing from the Coen's, but it's one I surely won't forget. Because not only is it entertaining and interesting, but it's a really personal film from them and that's partially what makes it so good. If anything, Barton Fink portrays the dreaded battle with the blank page very, very well.
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