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Customer Review

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GO WEST, YOUNG MAN..., 30 Nov. 2003
This review is from: Barton Fink [VHS] [1991] (VHS Tape)
Welcome to the wonderfully wacky world of the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen are two of the most brilliant filmmakers in the world today. Every film they turn out is a cinematic gem, and "Barton Fink" is no exception.
The film centers around a slightly pompous, idealistic, left wing playwright, Barton Fink (John Turturro), who in 1941, after becoming the toast of Broadway as the pretentious voice of the common man, goes west to Hollywood at the invitation of a major studio in order to try his hand at writing screenplays.
There, he meets studio head, Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), and his yes man and whipping boy, Lou Breeze (Jon Polito). Asked to write a screenplay for a Wallace Beery vehicle about wrestling, a subject about which the bookish Fink knows nothing about, causes Fink to go into a professional tailspin.
Ensconced in a decaying old hotel, seemingly run by its slightly creepy and unctuous bell hop, Chet (Steve Buscemi), who bizarrely appears on the scene out of a trapdoor behind the hotel's front desk, Fink begins his ordeal . The elevator is run by a cadaverous, pock marked, elderly man. The corridors of the hotel seem endless. The wallpaper in Fink's room is peeling away from the wall, leaving a viscous, damp ooze in its wake. His bed creaks and groans with a life of its own. It is also hot, oppressively hot.
No residents of the hotel are apparent, except for the appearance of shoes outside the doors in expectation of the free shoe shine the hotel offers its denizens and for the noise made by his neighbors. Finks meets one of his neighbors, the portly Charlie Meadows (John Goodman), a gregarious Everyman, possessed of an abundance of bonhomie. A self-styled insurance salesman, Charlie cajoles Fink out of his shell, befriending him in the process. Little does Fink know that beneath Charlie's congenial exterior lies a horrific secret that will spillover onto him in the not so distant future.
At a luncheon with studio under boss, Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub), Fink meets a famous writer that he reveres, W. P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), a southern sot so steeped in drink that his companion/secretary, Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis), has to do his writing for him. Fink falls for Audrey but finds his overtures rebuffed. Still, she is willing to try and help him overcome his profound writer's block. In a classic Coen twist, it is this single act of kindness that acts as the catalyst for the nightmare that makes Fink's life become a living hell on earth. He goes from living a life of self-imposed isolation and angst to one that appears to have been created by a Hollywood hack, filled as it is with the most incredible situations, a real studio head's dream.
John Turturro is terrific as the introverted, tightly wound, pretentious, and neurotic Fink, who in Hollywood, away from the womb of the Great White Way, is like a lamb led to the slaughter. With his sculpted afro, horn rimmed glasses, nerdy clothes, Fink is the stereotypic Hollywood notion of the commie writer. John Turturro makes the role his with a purposeful intensity.
John Goodman is sensational as the garrulous Charlie Meadow, the epitome of the working class man about whom Fink likes to write. Unfortunately, all is not as it seems, as Charlie has a dark side to him, a very dark side. John Mahoney is excellent as the Faulknerian-like writer, and Judy Davis outdoes herself, as the self-sacrificing Audrey Taylor.
Michael Lerner will razzle-dazzle the viewer with his over the top portrayal of a fast talking studio head who is willing to pay big bucks for the cache of having a top Broadway playwright turn out screenplay swill for the masses. Jon Polito is very good as the Uriah Heepish, quintessential yes man he portrays. Tony Shalhoub is excellent in his role, underscoring the absurdity of the old Hollywood studio system.
Steve Buscemi, looking surprisingly small in his bell hop uniform, resembles an organ grinder's monkey, at times. The viewer may also expect him to bellow, "Call for Phillip Morris", as in the old cigarette campaign, though he speaks in a controlled, respectful monotone, at all times. Still, his very presence adds a slightly sinister quality to the film, though he does nothing remotely sinister, other than the way he makes his screen appearance. His entrance onto the screen in this fashion foreshadows what is to come.
This film is not for everyone, as it does not have a neatly wrapped ending. Instead, it goes beyond the standard expected ending into an absurdist foray. Still, those who love films by the Coen Brothers will not be disappointed by this satiric look at Hollywood. It is little wonder that this film became the darling of the Cannes Film Festival.
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