The following review is completely spoiler free!
As a so called ‘film fanatic’, I suppose it is a bit of crime to say that until very recently, I really didn’t know much about the Coen Brothers at all. Yes, yes. Get it out of your system. I can almost hear the condescending gasps raining down upon me.
I mean, it’s not like I hadn’t seen any of their work. I have for example, seen their 2008 film ‘Burn After Reading’ and thought it was truly excellent. Even more recently than that, ‘Bridge of Spies’ and ‘Hail, Caesar!’ were the subject of a couple of our episodes. Episode 30 and Episode 44 respectively. Go on, give them a listen.
Despite that, it’s still no secret that I have a lot of catching up to do. So I decided to do something about it, and bought one of their earlier films, ‘Barton Fink’. Boy am I glad I did, what a truly fabulous piece of work.
Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a playwright who has just had enormous success on Broadway with his latest play. Naturally, Hollywood decides it wants a piece of the action and offers Barton the chance to write not for plays, but for pictures.
What follows is a fascinating story of what the film industry is really all about, and the incredibly unenviable life of a Hollywood script writer. From the moment Barton arrives at his eerily lifeless hotel, it is clear that this is not going to be the dream job he hoped it would be.
Turturro plays the socially awkward, mentally fragile role of Fink absolutely impeccably. Truly stellar acting. Somehow though, John Goodman manages to match him with his outstanding portrayal of Fink’s characterful neighbour Charlie Meadows. So delighted is Fink to have a friend he can talk to openly in this otherwise alien city, he is unable to see that Charlie isn’t perhaps all that he says he is…
Suffering from a severe case of writer’s block and coming under increasing pressure from the head of Capitol Pictures Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) to deliver the goods on the wrestling film he has been tasked to script, he reaches out to Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub) in the hope he can put him on the right track.
He runs into his writing idol W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney – born in Blackpool would you believe!) along the way and his wife and personal assistant Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis). It is upon meeting these characters that the film takes a turn so unexpected and against the grain that it will leave you begging to know more.
There are certain films that you simply cannot take your eyes off and this is most definitely one of those. The 1 hour and 56 minutes is gone in a flash.
Not only is the film full to bursting of incredible performances from its cast, but it has this wonderful uneasy tone about it which runs all the way through. Fink’s hotel room is the site of many fantastic scenes, whether he’s alone or whether he’s drinking and chatting away to Meadows, it always feels as though there is a lot more happening than simply what your eyes can see. His hotel room is almost a character in itself, its four walls with its drooping wallpaper casting a watchful eye over everything Fink does.
As you’d expect with a Coen Brothers film, there are plenty of surreal moments and some eye-catching camera work. As the film reaches its fiery climax, the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly blurred.
For me though, the standard of the acting is the most impressive element. Special mention must go to Michael Lerner who puts on an extremely memorable performance as the head of the studio. He is the highlight of every scene he is in, a real scene-stealer if you will.
What a cracking way to kick off this new weekly feature! Among many things this film has done for me, one of them is to fuel my hunger for more Coen Brothers. Superb acting, a truly engrossing story, and a wonderful tone all add up to a gem of a film.
Very easy this week, 5 stars.
Not a huge amount of bonus features available, however there are some pretty interesting deleted scenes to flick through and also a gallery of stills from the film. It’s a shame there is no commentary from the cast or the Coen brothers though, that would have been fascinating I’m sure.