Barton Fink ★★★★

If the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" is a portrait of the artist as eternal wanderer, then their "Barton Fink" is a portrait of the artist as eternally distracted. It is, that is, until it becomes an indictment of soulless, brainless Hollywood product that then turns turns into a Faustian Los Angeles-is-hell allegory before returning to its meditation on the artist. To be sure, "Barton Fink" has a lot on its narrative plate. Although that mix of ideas, metaphors, symbols, and plot threads can be a little much, the film is an engrossing and inspired piece of work.

Barton Fink is a New York playwright who heeds the siren song of movie-writing and moves to Hollywood. "Barton Fink" is his story, and it finds the writer interacting with a cadre of typically Coen-styled characters, a case of writer's block, and, eventually, a murder investigation. A narrative with enough shifts to keep an audience off-balance, less than pleasantly at times, the plot itself might be less important than how its characters react to it or the thematic and allegorical suggestions it makes.

As per splendid usual, this Coen Brothers film is loaded with interesting characters who are all performed with whimsical nuance and gravity. John Turturro is the one-time successful Fink who is in over his head in California. Turturro is ideal as the contradictory artist who can talk a great game but see nothing flow from his typewriter. John Goodman as Fink's neighbor turns in a layered performance with peaks and valleys of emotional bluster and quiet. Both men are excellent in their roles, and the rest of the cast is uniformly committed and accomplished.

The Coen Brothers' direction, with credit going to Joel Coen, is fully visualized through Roger Deakins' cinematography and Roderick Jaynes' (te he he...) snappy editing. Cameras swoop and observe, capturing the wood-toned hotel lobbies, white-stuccoed Hollywood offices, and all other symbol-rich environs of the film. It is a handsomely rendered, hot and hellish Los Angeles that, along with the film's actors and direction, grants the film its personality.

With "Barton Fink," Joel and Ethan Coen create a pastiche of theme, metaphor, and concrete plot points adorned with a wealth of stand-out characters and performances, symbol-laden visuals, and ambitious overall storytelling. While a straightforward narrative approach may have been more appealing to a general audience, that would have simply run counter to Coen sensibilities; and "Barton Fink" is pure Coen Brothers through and through.

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