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The Man Who Wasn't There

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Man Who Wasn't There

Starring: Billy Bob Thorton, James Gandolfini
Director: Joel Coen
Rated: R
RunTime: 116 Minutes
Release Date: November 2001
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Jon Polito, Adam Alexi-Malle, Michael Badalucco, Frances McDormand, Tony Shalhoub, Ted Raimi

Review by Susan Granger
3½ stars out of 4

Film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen score again with this pulpy film noir gem set in Santa Rosa, a small Northern California town, in the summer of 1949. Billy Bob Thornton plays Ed Crane, a pensive, laconic barber working for his brother-in-law (Michael Badalucco), who is intrigued by a get-rich-quick offer from a seedy stranger, a con-man (Jon Polito) who offers him a silent partnership in the first commercial dry-cleaning business if he can come up with $10,000. In the meantime, Ed discovers that his alcoholic wife Doris (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with her boss, Big Dave (James Gandolfini), who runs Nirdlinger's Department Store. So Ed decides to blackmail Big Dave but accidentally kills him instead. That, in turn, sets an unpredictable chain-of-events in motion, culminating with Doris's wrongful arrest for the homicide. Joel Coen's direction is illuminating. He elicits an amazingly stone-faced, soulful, minimalist performance from Billy Bob Thornton which is in perfect juxtaposition with Tony Shalhoub's as a venal, egotistical, larger-than-life defense lawyer. Plus there's a muted subplot involving a high-school pianist named Birdy (Scarlett Johansson) whom Ed considers to be a promising musician. Utilizing a color negative that's printed in black-and-white, Roger Deakins' photography has a remarkably lustrous depth and Dennis Gassner's period production design is flawless. "Do you ever wonder about hair?" Ed muses. "It just keeps growing" does the ingenuity of the Coen brothers. Too bad they keep us so emotionally detached. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a bizarre, quirky, ironic 8. Filled with chicanery, it's a captivating gem of a crime caper.

Copyright 2001 Susan Granger

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