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The Man Who Wasn't There Review

By Joe Lozito

Hairy Plodder


The Coen Brothers do nothing half-heartedly. Whether it's turning a satirical eye at a kidnapping gone horribly wrong ("Fargo"), setting Homer's "Odyssey" in the deep South ("O Brother Where Art Thou"), or concocting a genuine tribute to the film noir genre as in "The Man Who Wasn't There". This film, shot in beautiful black-and-white with plenty of shades of gray, follows sedate-to-the-point-of-non-existence barber Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) through a plot that seems pulled from such classics of the noir age as "Double Indemnity" or "D.O.A.". But this is the Coen Brothers, so you can be sure that the characters will be memorable and the style overwhelming.

The brothers do not disappoint. In Ed Crane they find a perfect mix of dry Coen humor and 40s style. With a constant cigarette hanging from his lips and a curl of hair to write home about, Mr. Thornton creates a character that is (as the title suggests) nearly invisible. Mr. Thornton, however, manages to give Ed Crane a joyless smolder that makes him sympathetic and ironically memorable.

Of course, it helps that the Coens surround Ed with a rich array of characters that are definitely there. James Gandolfini, in the role that was probably written for John Goodman, plays Big Dave, head of Nirlinger's Department store for whom Ed's wife Doris (Frances McDormand with precious little to do as the femme fatale) works. Scarlett Johansson, so wonderful in "Ghost World" gives another precocious performance here as a young neighbor. Best of all though is Tony Shaloub as the arrogant, boisterous attorney Freddy Riedenschneider.

Mr. Shaloub injects some much needed energy into the film which otherwise feels long at two hours. The Coens create an appropriately lethargic style for the film and carry it consistently throughout, but if the film were any slower it might have to be renamed for another noir classic: "The Big Sleep".

What did you think?

Movie title The Man Who Wasn't There
Release year 2001
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary Like the Beethoven sonatas that populate its soundtrack, this Coen brothers tribute to film noir is beatiful, deliberate and slow. Very slow. But the care with which it's made and the fine acting by all involved make the pace more than worth it.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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