Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
Barfly (Blu ray Import Review) : Chuck in Hollywood
on 16 November 2013
As Amazon's highly irritating habit of merging reviews for different formats/editions of the same title together continues, here's a review of the imported edition of 'Barfly' on bluray - the edition that has a bright blue rectangle with a white M on the bottom left of its' cover if you're checking the pics here. I'm not sure what country it originates from, but what we have here is a disc that plays on UK bluray players that are not enabled for region free, so the disc must be region-free.
I first saw 'Barfly' when it came out in the late eighties and wasn't massively impressed. Although it was screenwritten by Charles Bukowski himself - it clearly draws on scenes and characters from a number of his stories/novels - I didn't feel it captured the gritty, dingy seediness of the man's writing. The mis-en-scene seemed too light, leading man Micky Rourke too young and Faye Dunaway too glamourous. My feelings on these points haven't changed too much, but viewing the film again after such a long time, I feel more favourable toward it now as I'll explain.
Rourke is clearly depicting the younger Henry Chinaski here - a little older than he is in 'Factotum' but not as mature s he is in 'Post Office' perhaps. This is a more fictional Chinaski than the one in the novels though - a composite rather than a translation from the fiction. Despite his irritating delivery - drawing out words in a drawl that lengthens them artificially, Rourke is charming and funny as Chinaski. This is an affectionate rather than a tough, bleak portrayal. 'Barfly' is a funny, light, tender movie rather than a hard, desperate one. Despite the fact that there are two other Bukowski movies, none of them match the authenticity of the books.
Dunaway is great, but the fact remains that she is way too glamourous for the role of Wanda - plus she's a thin woman, not a curvy type, so she doesn't fit the bill. She's not bad though, being a fine actress. The supporting cast of barflies are, however, much better, but again, more often than not don't ring true as authentically beat as they should be.
The picture quality is good but not spectacular. The film certainly looks a lot better than the old VHS editions, but will not impress anyone used to top quality transfers of contemporary features though. But the serious Bukowski fan will cope - the man himself is present in two shots in one scene, sitting at a bar, presenting that magnificent, craggy face. Some 8 minutes and 30 seconds or so in, the image pixillated badly for a couple of seconds, but this may be due to damage or soiling caused by the fact that when I received the bluray it was rattling around in its case as it had come free of the spindle. I've not rewatched it since giving it a clean, so I can't tell you at this stage if this is an inherent flaw.
Overall, if you've forgotten this film, not seen it for years or are a younger Chuck fan and never caqught 'Barfly', I'd recommend you view this disc. Arguably, the Matt Dillon Bukowski film is better, but Rourke does more closely resemble Chinaski/Bukowski physically (and as I say, Chuck wrote it). However, all of the Bukowski movies are easily eclipsed by the sublime 'Trees Lounge' directed by Steve Buscemi, which is more like Bukowski's work than any of the films based more directly on his life and work.
Finally, if you wanted a review of the film and know nothing of Bukowski, well, sorry, but I can't help you...
Stephen E. Andrews, author, '100 Must Read Books For Men'