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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Barton Fink (1991)


Started the whole, “What’s in the box?” idea, way before “What’s in the box?” became a pop-culture sensation.

Barton Fink (John Turturro), an acclaimed playwright, is asked to come out all the way to Hollywood, despite his own, as well as his agent’s reservations toward that line of business. When Barton does get to Hollywood, not only does he go through an incredibly terrible case of writer’s block, but everything else around him seems to be falling apart and not making a single-lick of sense, either. But that’s why he has a good buddy, in fellow neighbor Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) to keep him company and most of all, keep him sane. Eventually though, Charlie’s word begins to crumble down, piece by piece, as well,  and Barton starts to realize that maybe Charlie isn’t exactly who he seems to be at all. Hell, he may not even be real.

People, people, people! It’s time for me to reveal to you all a deep and dark secret: I still don’t get this movie. I know, it’s been three years since the last time I actually sat-down and watched this movie, didn’t know what to make of it the first time, wrote a crappy review of it, posted it, advertised it and forgot all about it. However, three years later, something hit me in the head and made me realize that maybe now that I pay attention to movies a lot better and understand more, maybe, just maybe, this movie will have as huge of an effect on me as it seems to be having on every single-person who has ever watched?!!??! Ehh, then again, maybe not. But at least it tried and made me like it a lot more than last time.

Exactly how I feel when watching a Coen Brothers movie: Scared, worried, interested, but also left in the dark.

Exactly how I feel when watching a Coen Brothers movie: Scared, worried, interested, but also left in the dark.

The Coen Brothers have never really made it “their thing” to go out there, write movies and absolutely confuse the hell out of people with under-lining themes and symbolism. A lot of their material has twists and turns you don’t expect, and sometimes, feature shifts between genres, but they never have really pulled anything where it made me scratch my head. They are sort of straight-forward directors that tell straight-forward stories, yet, are very complex in their own right. This one is by far their most complex and I think that’s with good reason because the Coens have something to talk about and finally have the chance to be taken seriously.

And for the most part, being taken seriously is something they didn’t have to worry about being absent from their future because this movie definitely shows that these guys got something “going on” in terms of originality. The story starts off pretty simple, and then gets a bit weird, then weirder, and weirder, and weirder, until you have no idea what the hell is happening. But through it all, you can tell there are buckets of inspiration streaming out from the pores of the Coens, that just comes with them working their rumps off. You never know where this story is going to go with itself, or why, but that’s sort of a good thing because it added to the unpredictability of it all and made the ride through this guy’s wacky brain all the more entertaining and intriguing to be apart of. Never have nervous-breakdowns been so much fun to watch.

Now, aside from what the Coens do with this flick, I do have to say that there is some stuff here that I still don’t get, but also still don’t feel like I have to. It’s late right now as I’m typing this review and in all honesty, I’m probably going to go to bed after this, which really means I’m not going to get to read, each and every single line and detail of this movie on it’s Wikipedia page. I kid you not, you go on over to that link right there and just gaze at how freakin’ long that page is! Seriously, I mean, I thought I thought about this movie a bit too much, but hell, it seems like I didn’t think of enough because everybody else in the world was going bonkers over what the meaning was behind that mysterious mosquito.

I like films that make me think more than I’m expected to, I do, but this film seems like it has a bit too much going on with itself to the point of where not only did it lose me, but loses itself a tad as well. Let me get something straight, critics freakin’ love this movie and hail it as a masterpiece and I know exactly why: Filled with allusions to other works, symbolism out the wazoo, makes fun of Hollywood, all while focusing on about 3,000 different themes of the human-condition and themes of that era. That’s the sort of stuff that critics “get” and absolutely love (no offense to my fellow homeboys out there), and it’s no surprise that most of this film flew over my head, as well as most of the regular-viewing audience that was probably expecting the Coens to comeback with guns, twists, turns and a bit of bloodshed. Some of that does eventually happen, but in a more “intellectually sound” way, to be exact.

But being a “critical-darling” isn’t the best thing in the world to have, and that’s where it hit me that this film may have thrown out more than it could have held. The Coens definitely have a sharp-ear for dialogue that interests the hell out of you and visual-tricks that catch you off-guard, but this story and what it’s trying to say really takes away from all of the beauty here. I get that Hollywood blows and it’s very hard to get a script financed there because how everybody’s so tight and strict up there. Don’t worry, I got that part, more than a few times. However, right when I thought I wanted a new theme/idea for the Coens to bring up, I wanted to go back to the whole Hollywood-angle, mainly because the Coens started throwing all of these other ideas at the screen, seeing what would stick and what would fall without anybody noticing, since because they are, you know, THE Coen Brothers. Some characters will bring up the war, some will bring up homosexuality, some will bring up the common-man and others will just bring up drinking and having a good time and all seem like meaningless, small-talk, written by guys who know how to do it compellingly, but it just becomes a total cluster-fuck of ideas that are never drawn-out well-enough to fully have everybody’s attention and have us understanding everything, either. Then again, it’s always a refresher to get a movie that doesn’t always spell-out everything for ya and at least allows you to do some of the brain-work on your own time.

Usually, the sight of John Goodman walking towards me would make me smile with glee, but with the flames in the background: Eh, not so much. I'd just run.

Usually, the sight of John Goodman walking towards me would make me smile with glee, but with the flames in the background: Eh, not so much. I’d just run.

I just wish my brain didn’t hurt so much right now as we speak and while I type this. Ouch!

Even though he’s the guy that gets caught up in all of this craziness and rubble, John Turturro still comes out unscathed and does a magnificent job as Barton Fink, if not giving one of his best performances ever here. What makes Fink such an interesting character from the start, is that the guy is a bit of a weirdo, but he’s just like you or me: He’s talented at something so much, that he’s going to venture out and see if he can make a living in the big-leagues. I know everybody wants to do this and that’s what makes it so cool how Fink is just ready to get started right away as soon as he gets the call. Then, we start to sympathize with Fink as time goes on and things start to get weirder and weirder for him, but Turturro never loses that edge that makes us like the guy so much in the first place. Turturro is great here because he keeps this character worth watching, even when Fink himself may not make the best decisions. However, it’s just what makes him a person. Loved watching Turturro in this because the guy just continued to get crazier and crazier, but as he was, he was also getting more believable and sane, if you can believe that or not.

John Goodman plays the friendly-as-heaven neighbor of his, Charlie, and is just a ball to watch on-screen as you couldn’t have asked for a more lovable guy to play a lovable character. Goodman has this look and feel to him that just makes you feel at home whenever he shows up here, automatically making the flick better and liven things up with this story, as well as Barton himself. He and Barton have a nice friendship that starts off well and believable, and never loses that aspect as  the movie continues on. The way they talk, interact and make each other feel (not Brokeback Mountain-feeling, neither), without having to worry about all of their troubles out there in the real world, it all just felt real, despite all of the nuttiness surrounding it. They are just two dudes, who met one another and are now just hanging out whenever they can. It’s so fun to watch and it’s also definitely one of Goodman’s best performances, as well.

However, as much as Turturro and Goodman may be the two main stars here, they don’t steal the show. The real one who steals the show the most in this flick is Michael Lerner as Jack Lipnick, the head-honcho at Capitol Pictures. Lerner has three scenes that probably each last about five-minutes each, but he makes every single second count and is just so much fun to watch as he brings energy, bombast and creativity to a role that could have easily just been a bunch of “Hollywood sucks” cliches thrown right at the screen. Obviously Lerner left a big enough impression because the guy was nominated for an Oscar, but still, that doesn’t matter; because without him, this probably wouldn’t have been as smart or entertaining of a take on Hollywood than it already was. But, once again, trust me, it’s not Hollywood they just talk about here. Just check that Wikipedia page again if you’re at all interested and want to stop reading my rants and raves.

Consensus: No doubt about it, people will forever be scratching their heads and wondering just what the hell is up with Barton Fink, but you still can’t deny that it’s entertaining, interesting, original and a very well-acted piece of work that keeps your brain working the whole time, even if you do end on a bit of a question mark.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

If only Jersey beaches were this calm, peaceful and poetic.

If only Jersey beaches were this calm, peaceful and poetic. Damn you, Wildwood!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo

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16 responses to “Barton Fink (1991)

  1. Mel December 3, 2013 at 5:33 am

    Barton Fink is a movie about writer’s block. The story represents writer’s block and so does the hotel he checks into. The frustration of having no ideas and too many ideas at the same time. The insanity of writer’s block. The (hopefully) temporary insanity. (“you’re just passing through. I live here.” the serial killer says to him as the hotel burns) The main character has writer’s block but so too do the writers. The Coen brothers wrote Barton Fink in a couple days during a blockage while writing Miller’s Crossing. It is confusing. It is frustrating. It is maddening. It is writer’s block. It is all symbolism and nothing else.

    It is one of my top five favorite films of all time.

  2. thomasjford December 3, 2013 at 10:44 am

    I haven’t seen it in a lot of years, but I remember also thinking it was a strange one.

  3. jjames36 December 3, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Completely agreed. This film is fantastic, and intellectual.

  4. gloganwriter December 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Watched it again just a few weeks ago. It speaks so much more to me now than it did when I first watched it years back.

  5. ckckred December 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Nice review. Barton Fink’s one of my favorite Coen brothers movie and I love the surrealistic tone.

  6. Pingback: » Movie Review – Edge Of Darkness Fernby Films

  7. Mark Walker December 4, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Definitely one of the Coen’s most surreal efforts but I have to say I loved it.

  8. The Movie Man December 5, 2013 at 2:23 am

    Great review! I disagree about Lerner stealing the show though. To me, John Goodman shined above the rest and made it a memorable film (Lerner was phenomenal though). When I watched Barton Fink, I was like… “eh, it’s ok.” Sure, there’s good usage of symbolism and the horrors of writer’s block, but nothing seemed that special. Well, except for Goodman. “I’ll show you the life of the mind!” I’ll never forget that scene.

    • CMrok93 December 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      He was great, and so was Lerner. However, everybody in this was pretty amazing so it’s no surprise that they all still seem to get acclaim for their work here. Especially the Coens themselves.

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