Every now and then you feel like you’ve seen just about everything a director has to offer. The Coen Brothers are great at making chilling thrillers like Fargo and darker themed comedies in the same vein as The Big Lebowski and A Single Man. They’ve certainly had their misfires with Intolerable Cruelty and Hail, Caesar! Littering an otherwise sublime portfolio. The case of Barton Fink is an incredibly strange and enjoyable one; a film that looks to pair just about every genre it can think of together in an experiment of style, direction and performance. It pays off resolutely well, in what can only be described as an incredible feat for Joel and Ethan Coen.
Starring John Turturro as the titular Barton Fink, the story follows a theatre writer who makes the leap into big screen Hollywood adaptations. He finds the deadlines difficult, and writers block soon consumes him as he begins to write a generic story of a boxer. The block leads to desperation, and soon Fink turns to Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) his neighbour in the derelict hotel his production company have placed him in. Soon the inviting optimism turns to a bleak antagonistic motif as Fink battles against deadlines, everyone around him and himself.
Turturro’s performance here is fantastic, possibly one of the best pieces he has ever presented. He flourishes in his leading role here; more so than he did in other outputs from his leading role days. The likes of Fading Gigolo are forgiven considering his presence in Barton Fink is providing us with such a unique and creative story. He plays Fink as a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown, someone trying to adapt to a new working environment. It reminds me greatly of Naked Lunch which released the same year. Both films follow a writer in a new environment and how they cope with these new surroundings; it’s safe to say that Peter Weller in Naked Lunch deals a fair bit better than Barton Fink.
The film boasts some incredibly strong supporting performances too, with early work from Steve Buscemi and Tony Shalhoub becoming prominently enjoyable. It’s the work of John Goodman here though that manages to prevail among a group of truly talented cast members. Playing the delightfully chirpy Charlie Meadows, we’re provided yet another great collaboration between The Coen Brothers and Goodman. Their work together often gives us more eccentric roles for Goodman, who seems more than happy to provide intensely hilarious, yet terrifying performances.
Some strong direction from The Coen’s and great performances all around from an evidently talented cast set an enjoyably ominous mood for the entirety of Barton Fink. One of the Coen’s finest works, a piece that has been seemingly slept on and forgotten about after their successes later in the 90s with the likes of Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Some of the greatest scenes the two directing brothers have put to film can be found in Barton Fink, and for that reason alone it’s certainly worth the watch.