Barton Fink (1991)

BartonFink

Written by Ethan and Joel; directed by Joel; produced by Ethan

A successful Broadway playwright moves to LA to work on the movies. He faces writer’s block, but a gregarious neighbour comes to his aid when tragedy strikes…

Seen before? No.

Best performance: Seeing Steve Buscemi in these films – he had a small role in Miller’s Crossing too – reminds me pleasantly of when I was a teenager and he seemed to be in every other great movie.

Coen regulars (running total of appearances): John Goodman (2) plays Charlie, the larger-than-life neighbour. Buscemi (2), Jon Polito (2) and John Turturro (2) all return from Miller’s Crossing. John Mahoney (1) and Tony Shalhoub (1) also feature.

Best bit: John Goodman’s first scene. It covers menacing to hilarious and the skillful gear changes are a joy. Goodman and Turturro are both terrific.

Review: It’s fun seeing how these films are developing. Blood Simple had mood but no complexity; Raising Arizona had panache but no truth; Miller’s Crossing had genre conventions but no soul. Thankfully the Coens’ fourth feature, Barton Fink, combines style *and* substance into one really entertaining film. Instead of 80s noir or Prohibition gangsters, this is 1940s Hollywood glamour and sleaze. It’s still an off-kilter Coen-esque world, but everyone in it feels more plausible than in previous movies (there are great actors in every role, although women are shortchanged again). This gives the film a solid foundation for the quirky stuff to build on and/or undermine. Therefore it’s all the more enjoyable and – especially after the story takes a dark turn halfway through – all the more effective. It’s often very funny too.

Eight wrestling movies out of 10.

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