Barton Fink is a film that gets better with each viewing. It has perfect dialog, subtle humor, and more than a touch of emotion—a combination of ingredients one learns to expect from a film by Joel and Ethan Coen.
It's 1944 and Barton Fink (John Turturro), an acclaimed New York playwright, has just hit the big time on Broadway. Despite worries that he will lose touch with his inspiration, the common man, Fink signs a contract to create stories for Hollywood. When given the job of writing a low budget wrestling film, a genre he's never experienced, Fink gets writer's block. He doesn't want to work on B-movies, he wants to write about the pain of the working man.
In walks Charlie (John Goodman), an insurance salesman who epitomizes the very person Fink wants to write for and about. Yet instead of listening to the stories Charlie is willing to tell, Fink focuses on his own desire of getting his pain on paper. The deadline for his first screenplay approaches rapidly, but Fink can get out nothing more than the opening line. As the heat of summer builds, so do his stress levels, and Fink learns that in Hollywood, the writer isn't the one in control.
Barton Fink is a splendid satire of Hollywood and the struggles every writer faces. The humor is typical Coen brothers humor, some of which is so subtle, many of the jokes are missed the first time through. Yet at other times, it's simply laugh-out-loud funny.
What surprised me most about this film is its emotion. It's a comedy with feeling. Fink's struggles come to life as he punches at the keys of his typewriter or stares at the ceiling while lying in bed. This emotion is felt, in part, because the texture is so rich. This film truly places the audience in 1940s Los Angeles. The colors, sets, and costumes are perfect.
The cast couldn't have been better, either. Not only do Turturro and Goodman shine, but so does a supporting cast that includes Michael Lerner as the studio head-honcho and Steve Buscemi as the off-kilter hotel lobby attendant.
Available on DVD for the first time, Barton Fink is one of the Coen brothers' early films, but that doesn't mean it pales in comparison to their newer work. On the contrary. It has everything their fans have come to expect and simply gets better with age.
Twentieth Century Fox presents Barton Fink in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. I was pleasantly surprised not only by the detail of the image (although there was some softness evident), but also by the vibrancy of the color. For the most part, the Coen brothers use a somber palette for this film, staying with dark browns, ambers, and reds. These colors appear very rich in this transfer, which adds depth to the picture.
Specks are evident occasionally, but seldom enough to be a major problem. Once or twice a minor halo effect can be spotted, but only on close inspection. Despite these minor issues, the video quality is a suitable presentation of such a fine film.
The DVD contains an English 2.0 track, and mono tracks in Spanish and French. Although initially disappointed by the lack of a digital track, I quickly realized that what is offered does a fine job considering Barton Fink is a quiet, dialog driven film. Voices are crisp and the effects are clear. The bass isn't as deep as I would've liked, but this doesn't hamper the sound in any way.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There aren't many extras on this one. The most important is the inclusion of eight deleted scenes. It's obvious that most are cut for time or pacing, but there are a few here that add insight into the Fink character. One, in which a note is slid under Fink's door, is rather puzzling, leading me to question whether or not the Coen brothers had considered an alternate ending.
Also on tap is a still gallery that's actually worthy of your time, and theatrical trailers for Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing (both in widescreen), and Raising Arizona (full frame).
Barton Fink is a quiet film that is both thought provoking and entertaining. With its subtle humor and amazing dialog, this one deserves to be at or near the top of any list describing the best of the Coen brothers. Despite boasting only a few bonus features, this disc gets my highest recommendation.
One note of warning. A reader pointed out that the menu on this disc may offer some spoiler material. So for those who have never seen Barton Fink, consider navigating the menu very quickly.