Generally favorable reviews - based on 19 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 14 out of 19
  2. Negative: 2 out of 19

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Critic Reviews

  1. It feels thin. It's an empty tour de force, and what's dismaying about the picture is that the filmmakers... seem inordinately pleased with its hermetic meaninglessness.
  2. The New Republic
    Reviewed by: Stanley Kauffmann
    Billed as a comedy, but it could also be billed as a drama, a satire, an allegory, or a film (partially) noir. It wouldn't matter, or help... Not since Robert Altman has any American filmmaker been as overrated as this pair. [30 Sept 1991]
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 86 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 15 out of 16
  2. Negative: 0 out of 16
  1. MikeG
    Dec 1, 2006
    Barton Fink is arguably the Coen Brothers masterpiece. Not a single scene is wasted, and that includes the washed out backgrounds, the Barton Fink is arguably the Coen Brothers masterpiece. Not a single scene is wasted, and that includes the washed out backgrounds, the costumes worn by the characters, and every single bit of juicy dialogue. In a movie filled with awesome supporting performances by John Goodman, Judy Davis, a scene-stealing Michael Lerner and even Tony Shalhoub, John Turturro is the glue that holds this film together. Some actors fail in Coen Brothers movies because they seem too much like spectators...not in their skin and almost watching the movie with the rest of us. Turturro is perfect - an inhabitant of the insane world he's in but also an interloper at the same time. As mentioned above, the dialogue is all wonderful, crisp, sharp, funny, and meaningful all at once. Watch this movie twice if you don't quite get it the first time...the pay-off is simply incredible. Full Review »
  2. Apr 27, 2016
    Barton Fink is a smart, darkly comical satire with loads of memorable quotes and fine performances. John Turturro gives an effective leadBarton Fink is a smart, darkly comical satire with loads of memorable quotes and fine performances. John Turturro gives an effective lead performance, while John Goodman gives one of the best performances of his career (it's a mystery as to why he didn't get an Oscar nomination) and Michael Lerner steals every scene he's in. The movie's only flaw is its unsatisfying final quarter, where it raises a lot of questions but fails to provide a satisfactory answer for them. Still, the rest of the movie is great, with superb production values and a brilliantly satirical (yet truthful) portrayal of Hollywood and writer's block. Overall, Barton Fink is a triumph for the Coen Brothers and one of the best movies about Hollywood ever made. 9/10. Full Review »
  3. Apr 3, 2016
    What "Raising Arizona" was to baby lust, "Barton Fink" is to writer's block -- a rapturously funny, strangely bittersweet, moderatelyWhat "Raising Arizona" was to baby lust, "Barton Fink" is to writer's block -- a rapturously funny, strangely bittersweet, moderately horrifying and, yes, truly apt description of the condition and its symptoms. Barton, whose last name literally means blabbermouth, is an earnest young New York playwright whose widely praised new play, "Bare Ruined Choirs," has drawn notice in Hollywood, the land where greater men than Fink have found their choirs silenced, their inspiration dried up faster than wet nylons under strong sun.

    A deco-period film by Ethan and Joel Coen, "Barton Fink" is in fact their own creative solution to the writer's block that plagued them during the making of "Miller's Crossing." A triumph for the offbeat, grimly funny brothers, it reveals in its mythic fashion the vagaries of the creative process that plague every artist.

    The giving and gifted John Turturro stars as Fink, a self-absorbed and pompous naif who loses his bearings when he accepts a lucrative position with Capitol Pictures. Unwilling to give up all his snobbish principles, he checks into the threadbare Earle Hotel, a regal dump where he wrestles with his conscience, his assignment and his new next-door neighbor, Charlie Meadows.

    John Goodman plays this gregarious fellow, a traveling insurance salesman whose frequent intrusions give Fink a not unwelcome excuse for not writing. Meadows, who seems to embody the qualities of the common man whom Fink so arrogantly imagines he represents in his art, becomes the writer's closest confidant and eventually his wildly unpredictable muse.

    There is the decidedly rank smell of brimstone in the air at the Earle (its slogan is "Stay a Night or a Lifetime"), the primary setting for this latest version of the Mephistopheles story. It's 1941 in Los Angeles and a heat wave has settled over the city like a sticky gravy. It's so hot the wallpaper is peeling off in Fink's room, the paste running down the walls in gooey rivulets. That this is a leaky, living hell there is no doubt.

    The Earle is also alive with the sounds of night: the creaking of ceilings and the protests of bed springs, grunts, thumps, screams, wails and wheezing doors. Decorated in ghastly shades -- maroon, olive drab and bloodstain brown -- the Earle seems an organic being as crucial to this haunting tale as the spirit ship was to "The Flying Dutchman." A gurgling, heaving purgatory, it seems a most likely place to teach understanding and punish arrogance.

    And Barton Fink is assuredly a smug whelp deserving of a lesson. He claims to be interested in the stories of the common man, in establishing a theater for the masses. Yet when Charlie says, "I can tell you stories that would curl your hair," Barton, all wrapped up in how magnanimous he is, barely notices. Dire consequences await.

    The Coens have as much compassion as contempt for their hero, who looks vaguely like a cross between the brothers, a goofy intellectual at once shyly baffled and supercilious. Neither a talker nor a listener, Barton sometimes calls up visions of the kidnapped baby in "Raising Arizona." Fink, Turturro shows us, is only a babe among the fast-talking big kids of Hollywood. Still, he's his own weird man, a victim less of the system than of his own unexamined leftist ideals.

    The movie takes an irreverent poke at the industry, setting the hero against such marvelous old-style blowhards as Capitol Pictures' studio boss, Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner) and the slippery producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shalhoub), who has been assigned to supervise Barton's first film. Puzzled at Fink's reluctance to begin the script, Geisler loses patience: "Wallace Beery, wrestling picture. What do ya need, a road map?"

    Barton next turns to a fellow writer, W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), for advice. A Faulknerian novelist who drinks heavily and abuses his secretary, Audrey (Judy Davis), Mayhew also sees through the posturing of Fink. Audrey, part belle, part dame, tries to nurture the younger man's talent, but her efforts unfortunately come to a very bad end, which propels the tale to its obscurely symbolic but ultimately penetrable conclusion.

    The winner of an unprecedented three prizes at the Cannes Film Festival this year, "Barton Fink" is certainly one of the year's best and most intriguing films. Though it defies genre, it seems to work best as a tart self-portrait, a screwball film noir that expresses the Coens' own alienation from Hollywood. A cineaste's landmark on a par with "Blue Velvet," this is an experience to savor over and over.
    Full Review »