Monday, February 8, 2010

Barton Fink: Great Noir, Could Be Funnier

With a cast of John Goodman and John Turturro and direction from Joel and Ethan Coen, the formula for Barton Fink is perfect. But I'm not entirely sure what the Coens are after in this 1991 cult classic. The L.A. pulp noir and Hitchcockian elements are here in spades. That part of it is great.

The film leaves me a little cold though. And I think it's the lack of humor. Goodman is plenty creepy, and Turturro turns in a performance which no doubt left him physically exhausted, despite not really having all that many lines.

The three-time Oscar-nominated story features Turturro as a successful New York writer who is convinced by his manager to go make the big bucks in Los Angeles writing film screenplays. The action takes place at the time of Pearl Harbor, so lots is going on in the world, but the story revolves around what's going on inside Turturro's creative mind.

The supporting actors shine (especially in the humor department): Veteran bit-parter Michael Lerner as the head of Capitol Pictures and a producer played by Tony Shalhoub (Monk). Steve Buscemi's role seems to be wasted as the infrequently-appearing hotel man Chet. And I'm not entirely convinced that John Mahoney (Frasier) and Judy Davis turn in convincing performances as a William Faulkner-like drunk and his beaten-around girl.

Because of these problems, Barton Fink (surprisingly, at least to me) stays just outside of my top 9 Coen films.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

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