Movie Review: Barton Fink (1991)

Posted: November 26, 2011 in Drama
Tags: , ,

Barton Fink

It is 1941, and Barton Fink has just written a successful play.  Hollywood is now beckoning.  Barton is conflicted, he believes that he writes to echo the feelings and attitudes of the common man, and he feels as if he hasn’t tapped into the source of his best work yet.  Despite his inner turmoil, Baton decides to move to Los Angeles, into a fleabag hotel, and begin writing a wrestling movie for studio boss Jack Lipnick. (Michael Lerner) Lipnick asks Ben Geisler (Tony Shaloub) to oversee the writing process.  Baton, try as he might, can’t get past the first paragraph of his movie script, he has writer’s block.

Barton runs into influential writer WP Mayhew (John Mahoney) at the studio and asks Bill, as Mayhew is known, if he could stop by Bill’s hotel room to ask the prolific writer any questions to help resolve his writer’s block.  When he stops by, Barton sees that Mayhew’s best days are clearly behind him, he drinks heavily and beats his secretary, Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis).  Barton is clearly attracted to Audrey, but she tells him that she is involved with Bill. Unable to meet with Mayhew, Barton is stuck having long conversations with insurance salesman Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), who Barton perceives as being a common man.  His conversations sparsely help his writers block, and under pressure from Geisler, Barton reaches out to Audrey for help.  They make love, and the next morning Audrey is dead in a pool of her own blood, lying next to Barton.  Who killed her?  Why was she killed?

This is a very enjoyable movie for the first hour and a half.  It feels very much like a noir film from the 1940’s and reminded me a lot of LA Confidential.  The character of Barton is a hard one to like, because he thinks he’s writing in the voice of the common man, but he has a very grandiose, self important image of himself, as creator of art.  So he writes for the common man but sees himself as above the common man, as illustrated by a fight Barton has with a member of the Navy as a USO show.  The story moves along nicely until the big reveal, which in my opinion, ruins the entire film, and the theme of common man versus artist, unless the Cohen Brothers were trying to build some kind of metaphor about the hellishness of the creative process, I missed the point of the ending completely.  What makes this movie better than most is the liberal use of comedy to lighten the mood of what could have been a tediously dark film.  Turturro is fantastic as the geeky nebbish , Fink who is literally struggles with writing for the common man, although that’s what he purports to want to do.  The viewer can see the struggle on his face. Goodman gives a stellar performance as the common man, who’s not so common after all.  His performance is both comedic and tragic and comedic.  This is his best performance since the Big Lebowski, also a Coen Brothers movie.  This movie is good, not as good as Fargo, or The Big Lebowski or O Brother Where Art Thou.

Barton Fink:  A badly written ending, sinks Fink.

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