out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
The Man Who Wasn't There
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"...as 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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