An idealistic New York playwright soon sells out his ideals when he is enticed to Hollywood to write screenplays for movies. However, when he develops writers block, his world becomes more sinister...
The brilliant John Turturro is, of course, the Barton of the title, a self-pitying, self-absorbed, self-conscious 1940s playwright whose patronising homilies to The Common Man have done him proud in New York's theatrical circles, and who is now in being feted by Hollywood.
Once he's effortlessly sold out his "art" to take a contract at Capitol Pictures, however, he finds himself holed up in a very bizarre hotel with John Goodman for a neighbour and a blank piece of paper for company. As he desperately tries to get going on the B-picture wrestling opus he's been commissioned to write ("It's a wrestling picture — whaddya want, a road map?"), Barton's world gradually closes in, with everything becoming not what it seemed to be — from whether Goodman is who he says he is, to whether Barton's novelist hero actually writes his own books.
Finally, in the utterly Coen-esque and violently compelling denoument, nothing, of course, is neatly resolved. Apart from the usual enticements you'd expect from Joel and Ethan Coen — performances to knock your block off from Turturro, Goodman, Lerner as the horrendous studio chief and Judy Davis as the love interest; visual flourishes aplenty; a literate, witty screenplay — what we have here is a subtle assault on the arrogant obsessions of certain kinds of writers.
Unwilling to really listen to the "common man" he professes to champion, pathetically convinced of his own talent, Barton Fink is too busy making up stories to actually live any.
Barton Fink is the ultimate in intellectual ballast, and with him the Coens have created a genuinely believable and multi-faceted character, while giving us a thumping good story that never lets up in its humour, pathos and intrigue