Set in the 1940s, Barton Fink is the story of a playwright of the same name (John Turturro of Miller's Crossing) who moves from his home in New York to the bustling borrow of Hollywood, California. His goal is to take a shot at writing a wrestling movie, so that he won't let his newfound fame as a successful playwright go to his head.
He holes up in the oddly macabre Hotel Earle. While there, makes the acquaintance of Charlie Meadows (John Goodman of The Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski and a few others… and then, of course, Rosanne), a strange insurance salesman who happens to be staying next door.
Barton soon finds himself with a severe case of writer's block after banging out only a single sentence on his typewriter. Charlie decides he can help Barton and tries to teach him everything that there is to know about wrestling but it doesn't seem to be doing him any good.
As things heat up outside from the California sun, they get just as heated inside from Fink's fast approaching deadline. The pressure causes his already steadily increasing stress level to peak, and things just spin more and more out of control from there.
There are a lot of little details put into Barton Fink that make it work. Some of the humor is so subtle that you likely won't catch it the first time through, which makes the film ripe for repeat viewings. While it's not to everyone's tastes (it is a really bizarre little movie), there's no denying just how well directed it is. Everything from the set design to the little cameo's (look for Coen Brothers regular Steven Buscemi in a small role) work together to make Barton Fink a unique and rewarding film that is part satire of the Hollywood system and part human-interest story.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the movie is as wonderfully well cast as it is. Turturro is great as the titular lead. He's a twitchy, quirky strange man and as his story evolves it is fascinating to watch this talented actor take the role and run with it. His work here is unforgettable. Likewise, John Goodman is great as Barton's neighbor and seeing an actor who can be as loud and as brash as Goodman can be when the time comes placed alongside Turturro at his mousiest to teach him the in's and out's of wrestling? Well that's the potential for comedy gold right there, and the movie strikes that gold more than a few times before it's all over and done with. Supporting work from Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, Tony Shaloub, John Mahoney and Jon Polito are also worth mentioning.
The movie also features strong production values. The attention to period detail is quite welcome and gives the movie the authenticity that it needs to work. The hotel where most of the story plays out has as nice, strange vibe to it while the costumes that adorn the various players that populate this world also work really well. Add to that a really solid score from composer Coen Brothers regular Carter Burwell and excellent cinematography from yet another Coen Brothers regular in the form of Roger Deakins and yes, this one winds up holding up really well.The Blu-ray:
Barton Finks arrives on Blu-ray from Kino on a 50GB disc framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The image here is a bit soft and fairly grainy but it is film like. Skin tones look nice and natural and the color reproduction is quite good. Black levels are fine and the image is, for the most part, pretty clean, showing only minor specks now and then, no really serious print damage at all. There isn't any obvious edge enhancement, noise reduction or compression artifacts to note. Contrast might be a little warm in spots but otherwise, this is a decent transfer if not demo material.Sound:
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track. Optional closed captioning is provided in English only, there are no alternate language or subtitle options provided. There isn't a ton of channel separation here to note as the film is almost entirely dialogue driven but you will occasionally notice it with score placement and the few sound effects that are featured in the movie. There's decent range here, dialogue is easy enough to follow and to understand and there are no noticeable problems with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
Extras start off with a fourteen minute long interview with actor John Turturro that proves well worth watching as he shares some interesting thoughts on his character, his experiences on this film and his relationship with the Coen Brothers. Up next, a fifteen minute long interview with actor Michael Lerner who also shares some thoughts about what it was like to work on the picture, how he wound up in the film and more. From there, we spend twelve minutes with producer Ben Barenholtz who shares his thoughts on the story, the Coen's style, the cast and other related topics. Last but not least, there's Headspace: The Inner Sounds Of Barton Fink which is a twenty minute long interview with composer Carter Burwell and sound editor Skip Lievsay in which they elaborate on what they did on the film and the importance of sound design in the movie.
There are also eight short deleted scenes included on the disc, most of which were obviously removed for pacing purposes but they're interesting enough to watch. These were also included on the previous domestic DVD release, carrying them over to this Blu-ray was obviously the right thing to do. Finally, we get the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Barton Fink holds up well, at times darkly comedic and at other times, lighter but almost always consistently funny even when it takes us into some decidedly strange territory. The performances are great and the production values are strong. Kino's Blu-ray is a bit on the soft side but otherwise looks pretty decent, features solid lossless audio and a nice selection of extra features. Recommended.