The Man Who Wasn’t There

In this black-and-white film noir by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (True Grit, No Country for Old Men), Billy Bob Thornton stars as Ed Crane, an aimless barber who’s dissatisfied with his life in a small northern California town in the summer of 1949. His wife’s (Frances McDormand) infidelity presents Crane with an opportunity for blackmail that he thinks will turn his life around … but his scheme lays bare even darker secrets that eventually lead to murder. James Gandolfini co-stars.

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Coen Brothers float from genre to genre the way that David Bowie floats from music style to music style. They decide on a script, make the film, and tell a great story. There really is no weak part to their filmmaking. They weave a great tale, always get first rate performances from the actors, and have a keen visual eye for interesting camera angles and visual trickery to illicit an emotional response.I think when all is said and done; they are in the top 5 of American filmmakers ever.

“The Man Who Wasn’t There” is their take on film noir and they do a terrific job. It’s not perfect; “Fargo” and “No Country for Old Men” were perfect. But for film noir, it’s great. A lot has to be said for the film’s editing. This is a film that relies a lot on silence. The main character (played note perfect by Billy Bob Thornton) is a man of few words but deep thought. His narration accompanies the film wonderfully and fills in the blank spaces. Much of the dialogue is one way. A character talks to Billy Bob and he just nods. His quiet demeanor leaves an aura of unpredictability to his character that keeps the film moving. You never know what’s bubbling underneath the surface. Is it rage? Anger? Fear? Sadness? Happiness? We don’t always know and it leaves a lot to our imagination.There’s also first rate work here by the entire cast. James Gandolfini, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, and particularly Tony Shalhoub as the eccentric and fast-talking lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider are awesome all around.

The problem with the film is the few loopholes in the story that made little sense to me. If Billy Bob’s character was trying to move on from his wife and create his own life, why did he pay through the nose for a top flight lawyer? It seemed closed and shut that he eliminated two problems at the same time: his wife and her adulterous lover. Also, for a guy who seems to think out every deal, he couldn’t see that the man starting the dry cleaning business was a scam? The last reel of the film is a disappointment because the setup was so good. But all in all, I highly recommend it, particularly if you love old black and white film noir.


6 responses to “The Man Who Wasn’t There

  1. good review, Brian, I’ll check this one out.

  2. Pretty cool review here. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but, when I first saw this movie when it was in the theater, I didn’t enjoy it. I like all the Coen brothers other films, but, as I remember, this one was missing an ingredient or two. I’ll give it another shot though.

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  5. mmmm it looks intresting

  6. When teaching a university class in media design, in one lecture, I showed the first 20 minutes of three film noir flicks: “Maltese Falcon”, “Body Heat”, and “The Man Who Wasn’t There”. The following week, one of the students said that she liked the first 20 minutes of “The Man Who Wasn’t There” so much that she rented it and watched the whole film. Then she demanded that I explain what the last half of the film was all about. I mumbled about unreliable narrators and 1950s men’s magazines for a while, but I don’t think she believed a word I was saying or ever forgave me.

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