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Directed by Joel Coen and released back in 1991, Barton Fink is a dark comedy about a playwright who gets the opportunity to write a wrestling picture for a big Hollywood studio but quickly experiences writer's block.

This is perhaps one of the Coen Brothers' least well-known yet best movies. It failed at the box-office upon its release but sweeping the Cannes Film Festival, earning a few Oscar nominations and being a critical hit more than made up for that. The film follows Barton Fink (John Turturro), a passionate playwright who wants to create important work for the "common man", as he travels to Los Angeles to write a wrestling film for a Hollywood producer. He soon experiences writer's block in his dingy hotel room and befriends his neighbour Charlie (John Goodman) before slowly but surely spiralling down into confusion and despair. Part-Hollywood satire, part-surreal thriller, Barton Fink is a strange little movie that explores various big themes without actually exploring them, instead leaving everything open to interpretation and teasing the viewer from start to finish.

This is the Coen Brothers are their most meticulous with every detail, whether it's the peeling wallpapers in the hotel, a mosquito or a picture of a woman sitting on a beach, being very significant. The cinematography and art direction throughout are subtly brilliant and everything else, from the score to the writing and direction, is basically flawless. Both John Turturro and John Goodman give some of their best performances and the excellent supporting cast includes Judy Davis, John Mahoney, Tony Shalhoub and Steve Buscemi. Barton Fink moves at a slow and steady pace, leading you deeper and deeper into the cruel, lonely world of screenwriting so when it delivers some unexpected twists, including the surprisingly epic ending, you're never quite ready for it. This is a much less flashy and over-the-top film than some of the Coens' other works (it's actually closer to something like A Serious Man) but it's every bit as good as their best.

Recommending a Coen Brothers film at this point is redundant: ultimately, you should really check out every single one of them if you're a fan of cinema as an artform. Barton Fink is one of their smaller yet most effective and surprising films so it's definitely worth a watch, and a re-watch.


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