REVIEW: Barton Fink
If I were to be stuck on a desert isle and only permitted to watch the body of work of one filmmaker, it might be the Brothers Coen. I know, I know, technically speaking they are two different people, but they act as one entity. Has any filmmaker had as great a success as the Coen brothers did with their first three films? You would be hard pressed to surpass Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Miller's Crossing as your first three films. Indeed, many filmmakers would be delighted if they had three such films in their entire career, but that's exactly what Joel and Ethan Coen produced straight out of the gate. And their growth from film to film was amazing. By the time they got to Miller's Crossing I began to think that they could do no wrong. They produced intelligent scripts, superbly shot, and they never went back to the same story, let alone genre.
So there I am on my desert island with nothing but a TV, a DVD player and a stack of Coen brother's movies. If at this point you are worried about what possible power source I would use to run these mechanisms, I suggest you stop reading this review and begin watching Lost. So there I am, I've just inserted Barton Fink, when suddenly a giant wave comes crashing in and washes all the other films away. Oh well, what am I worried about? After all, I have no foreknowledge that The Lady Killers, Intolerable Cruelty, The Big Lebowski and The Hudsucker Proxy are all going to be sub-par, I've got the Coen Brothers fourth film, Barton Fink to look forward to. This is the 1991 film that won every major award at the Cannes Film Festival, what could possibly go wrong?
And thus began my slow disillusionment with the brothers Coen. Mind you, I'm not completely down on them, and at times (as with Fargo) I'm downright giddy with excitement at the thought of one of their films coming out, but they've lost that special aura and I'll never be able to look at them the same way again. Well we only build up idols to tear them down, so let's bring in that wrecking ball, shall we?
Let's get the story out of the way right off the bat. Barton Fink is the darling of Broadway. His current play is a big hit and Hollywood comes a calling. Barton has certain ethics, however, and he doesn't want to compromise his work. He's passionate about writing stories of the common man. Aw heck, what harm could come from a little time spent in Los Angeles? Oh, losing your soul for starters, and that's exactly what happens to Barton during the course of this film.
Helping him along the way is John Mahoney playing W.P. Mayhew, a brilliant older author who came out to Hollywood long ago and quickly lost his own soul. He now spends his days punishing his liver. Barton looks to him for advice when he should be looking at him as a cautionary tale. Then there's Judy Davis playing Mayhew's wife who has been trying to help her mate out by writing his works and now turns her attention to Barton. Judy's thanks for her little infidelity is to wind up dead by Fink's side the next morning. And let's not forget the traveling salesman, Charlie Meadows, played by John Goodman. Charlie's the only one who believes in Barton and tries to help him out by disposing of the body. Turns out Charlie is an expert in the field as he's a serial killer himself. And playing the part of Fink is John Turturro. Never my favorite actor, he's downright annoying in this film. Whine, whine, whine, cry, cry, cry. There's nothing quite so pathetic as Turturro squirting a few.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the Coen Brothers were trying to do with this film. The underlying themes are apparent enough, but what led them to make this particular film? And then it hit me; it's their homage to David Lynch. Sure it is; weird things that show up simply because they're visually stimulating, the lethargic pace, and even Barton's hair which can't help but remind you of Jack Nance from Eraserhead. Or maybe Kid
Barton Fink isn't interesting enough visually to carry me along, nor is its storyline strong enough to keep my attention. The film is less than the sum of its parts. There's a brief bright spot when Tony Shalhoub shows up, but he disappears far too quickly. God I hope Fargo washes up on shore soon.
Hamlin Grade: 3
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