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Barton Fink (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on April 22, 2012

As is often the case with the Coens, this film resists easy categorization.  It’s certainly funny at times, with its oddball Coen characterizations and satire of both Hollywood superficiality and New York intellectuals.  But it’s not entirely a comedy, not even entirely a black comedy.  It has neo-noir stylization but it squirms out of that niche as well.  It’s not merely a dramatic allegory for a Dante descent into hell or a scathing indictment of phony pretension of a character study of a lonely writer.  It’s all of these things, at once, and something else.  You can’t put it in a box and tie a rope around it, it keeps moving around.

Whatever it is, it’s wonderfully executed.  Turturro is so awkward but self-righteous and pompous, a protagonist who’s hard to care about — he does need to “grow up a little” — but so naive and inherently out of his element in any situation that you care for him anyway.  Goodman is maybe at his very best, those gorgeous little twists of character being injected with a mischievous glint, or a subtle darkening of the face.  And a cast of supporting characters who are memorably (but not cloyingly) quirky… Steve Buscemi, John Mahoney, Tony Shaloub, Michael Lerner, Jon Polito.  I do wish Judy Davis was a touch more developed, perhaps to feel what happens to her a little deeper, or perhaps just because I think she’s terrific.

The cherries on top are the glorious sets, the Lynchian sound design, Burwell’s somber score and Deakins’s thoughtful, precise camerawork.  I still don’t know what this film is, in some ways it defies analysis… but it always strikes a chord in ways that only remarkably original and unforgettable cinema can.  Rating: Great


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