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USA 1991
Directed by
Joel Coen
116 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Barton Fink

Give them a retro setting and a protagonist out of his depth and the Coen brother are in home territory. Here the setting is Los Angeles, 1941, and the schlub is Barton Fink (John Turturro), a idealist Leftist Brooklyn playwright who gets the call to Hollywood after he has a hit play. He is put up in a crummy hotel (where Steve Buscemi makes a brief appearance as a bell-hop) and is told to write a treatment for “a wrestling picture” starring Wallace Beery. He  befriends his neighbour, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) and seeks advice from his idol W P Mayhew (John Mahoney).a successful playwright also under contract.

Delving into the infamously soul-destroying sordiness of studio-era Hollywood, the Coens have delicious fun with poor Fink, a patsy if ever there was one, slowly dragging him deeper and deeper into a nightmare world that is spiritually just a few degrees west of David Lynch’s Eraserhead – the walls ooze, the fans limply move the stifling air as Fink stumbles like a lost soul from one grotesque encounter the next like a man on the way to Hell.

Turturro and Coen regular Goodman, both in wonderful form, headline a tip-top cast that also includes Judy Davis, Michael Lerner (brilliant as a B-studio head) and Tony Shalhoub in what is a typically stylish affair from a pair of  master filmmakers well assisted by regular team members, cinematographer Roger Deakins, composer, Carter Burwell and production designer Dennis Gassner.




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