The Man Who Wasn't There Review
By Mark Grady
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Joel and Ethan Coen, the writing and directing team behind such oddly compelling films as "Fargo" and "Raising Arizona" once again train their unique microscope on small-town life with "The Man Who Wasn't There". Set against a backdrop mixed of equal parts Hitchcock and Capra, the Coens weave a strange tale of murder betrayal and intrigue, all of which are the direct result of seemingly uninspired barber Ed Crane's passing desire to reach beyond his lot in life.
Significantly more interesting than the occasionally predictable twists and turns of the main plotline, however, is the underlying character play, which explores the role of the average man and his place in an increasingly limiting and uninspiring world.
The strong screenplay is made even better by Billy Bob Thornton, who brings life not only to the vacant Ed Crane, but also to the entire film by giving, paradoxically, one of the most understated performances of his career. Thornton, with his usual chameleon-like approach to acting, perfectly captures the tone of the writing, playing his part more as a set piece than a central catalyst. Yet it is a credit to Mr. Thornton that in spite of the charcter's extreme lack of concern for both himself and those around him, the audience feels occasional bursts of sympathy and concern for his plight.
The cast is rounded-out by familiar character actors such as Frances McDormand, who is unfortunately given little to do as Doris Crane, the cheating spouse, James Gandolfini, her lover, who almost stretches his acting muscles before falling back on the Tony Soprano character for his climactic scene, and Tony Shalhoub, who adds nice comic touches as the much-needed and completely ethicless defense attorney.
Another high-note comes courtesy of Scarlett Johansson in the part of Birdy Abundas, the listless teen (and would-be Lolita) with whom Ed Crane becomes briefly infatuated - though not in the way you would think.
The only shortcomings of the film arise from some minor lags in the middle and the occasionally heavy-handed direction. All in all, though, "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a nicely layered, thought provoking experience.