Sunday, May 18, 2014

Barton Fink (1991)

The Coen Bros. at their best. It succeeds where I felt that INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS had failed - in presenting an offbeat, quirky protagonist whose efforts and subsequent failures serve some greater purpose than merely setting him up as narrative cannon fodder, and surrounding him with equally distinctive characters that help and hinder his journey.

As the title character, John Turturro creates a truly memorable persona, and he is ably supported by such greats as John Goodman, in full form as a sad-sack insurance salesman who is not at all what he first appears to be, John Mahoney as a washed-up Faulkneresque novelist-turned-screenwriter, Judy Davis as his mysterious love interest, secretary and creative muse, and Michael Lerner as the loud, crass, and mean movie mogul. Steve Buscemi turns up in a supporting role as a bellhop, enlivening the part with his unique delivery in what would have otherwise been a minor role, and even Tony Shalhoub brings the right mix of charm and desperation to his role as a studio producer.

The Coens put us inside Fink's head and never lets us out, even at the end of the film when the entire screen world has been turned topsy-turvy. Their stylized universe is populated by colorful and eccentric characters that follow their own internal logic. They also present us with one of the most nightmarish visions of Tinseltown this side of SUNSET BLVD. and MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

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