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.
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 BONUS FEATURES
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).
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.