Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a struggling play-write in 1940s Los Angeles. When he’s commissioned to write a wrestling movie, he finds the transition to the big screen hard, spending his days pondering his work in a dingy hotel room. When strange things start happening, he gets to know the man in the room next door (John Goodman).
Made by the Coen brothers, Fink isn’t up to the standard of some of their other films, such as Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou?. It’s half an uninteresting story of a struggling script writer, and half a cripplingly underbaked psychological thriller which only remembers to start 45 minutes before the end. This awkward coupling of two types of film means that it’s hard to find your feet with Fink. The Coen brothers are renowned for genre bending, but this feels less a subtle mix of genre elements than a head on collision.
The character of Fink himself is not particularly likeable, often coming across as pretentious and condescending. Yet he is brilliantly played by John Tuturro, who resembles a Latino Lembit Opik (Chica Girls, anyone?), with Cohen favourite John Goodman also proving excellent. Steve Buscemi even plays a role that’s noticeably different from all his other ones, a welcome revelation.
Films about struggling writers often deliver quirky and original material- just see Adaptation, Seven Psychopaths and Synecdoche, New York – but Fink fails to hit the mark. Thanks to The Shining it’s not even the best film about a struggling writer set in a hotel.
The visual style and well written characters are absorbing, which are things that carry the film to a certain extent. But unfortunately this isn’t enough to save the film, as the events of Barton Fink fail to match the strength of its other attributes.