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Overall Rating

Awesome: 35.37%
Worth A Look43.9%
Average: 9.76%
Pretty Bad: 9.76%
Total Crap: 1.22%

7 reviews, 40 user ratings

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Man Who Wasn't There, The (2001)
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by EricDSnider

"Dark, in black-and-white, and slow-paced: Will anyone in America watch it?"
4 stars

“The Man Who Wasn’t There” is from Joel and Ethan Coen, the brothers behind such films as “Raising Arizona” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The new one is paced a bit slower and is more muted in tone than those, recalling instead the Coens’ “Fargo” and, especially, “Blood Simple.” But for being quieter than most of their big audience favorites, “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is still vastly entertaining and boasts several excellent performances.

Chief among them is Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Ed Crane, a taciturn barber in 1949 Santa Rosa, Calif. “I don’t talk much,” he says in the voice-over narration, where he is much more talkative. “I just cut the hair.”

He lives with his wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), a vigorous alcoholic who cooks the books at Nirdlinger’s department store, where she also seems to be having an affair with co-owner Big Dave (James Gandolfini). Ed doesn’t particularly mind the infidelity — one gets the impression Ed doesn’t particularly mind anything — but he uses it to his advantage when he needs money for a business investment and realizes Big Dave would be a good blackmail target.

Ed winds up killing a man, somewhat accidentally and somewhat in self-defense. And then Doris is blamed for the murder, and still Ed remains silent — sort of.

Two different people ask Ed, “What sort of man are you?” and neither time does he have an answer for them. He doesn’t know what kind of man he is. His fallen arches prevented him from fighting in the war, so he’s not a hero like so many guys walking around in 1949 were. He is a non-descript figure living in the non-descript era between the hardships of World War II and the sunniness of the 1950s. He doesn’t really have any friends, but he’s not disliked by anyone, either. Like he said, he just cuts the hair.

Thornton is on the verge of brilliance in this role, saying so much with his long glances, hard stares and to-the-point dialogue. One is sympathetic for him despite apparently knowing so little about him. It’s the sort of performance that speaks volumes after the movie, when you reflect upon it and realize you know more about him than you thought you did. It is rare for the Coens to be as compassionate toward one of their characters as they are toward Ed.

Frances McDormand is reliable as always, earning pathos and laughs with equal skill. And the film is nearly stolen by Tony Shalhoub as a slick lawyer called in from out of town to defend Doris in court.

It is film noir, which the Coens have done before (“Blood Simple”), and which suits the deadpan-witty dialogue they tend to write. It’s shot in black-and-white, too, in case you didn’t get the idea that it was noir, and while it has light moments, it is far more harsh than funny. It’s a switch, then, from what many people expect from the Coens, but in truth, it employs a lot of the same dark themes that have always lurked around the fringes of their movies.

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originally posted: 11/16/01 10:32:01
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User Comments

5/26/11 matt the evil man doesn't believe he's evil. ed crane is insane. he justifies everything to hims 5 stars
2/27/11 Platypussy Drifts and drifts and drifts 1 stars
6/01/10 User Name Style over substance, Coens or not. 3 stars
1/25/09 Tony A quiet storm of ironic humor and delicate drama shot beautifully in black & white. 5 stars
10/05/05 Jesse Taylor One of the Coens' best films so far. Very dark. The cinematography is amazing. 5 stars
9/25/05 D Buckley God, the Coen boys are starting to suck... 2 stars
3/18/05 indrid cold The radically overrated Coens do a great job, or at least the cinematographer does. 4 stars
5/11/04 J.Peckerfoot makes you wonder why more black n white films arent made.beautifully shot,great cast. 5 stars
5/05/04 A F It was good. I love Scarlett. 4 stars
4/05/04 Miss Julie I think I'm in love with Billy Bob Thornton too. I didn't think that was possible. Riveting 5 stars
7/29/03 NBCraftsman A precise study of "light, shadows, cigarettes (&) Beethoven", Coen style... 4 stars
5/17/03 George Jung Great film with amazing acting. There is nothing wrong with this film. 5 stars
9/15/02 Joe Zappa (I'm Back!) A little overrated, but it's pretty cool. 4 stars
7/15/02 The Motherfucking Hell Nazi Yeah, the UFO seemed irrelevant. Scarlet Johannson is a treasure. Give her more roles 5 stars
6/10/02 The Bomb 69 too slow to keep my attention fully, interesting twist at the end, whats up with the UFO? 4 stars
5/26/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi this was a beautiful film, and i think im falling for billy bob as well 5 stars
5/20/02 Phil M. Aficianado 5 Stars, minus one for the UFO side trip. What was THAT about? Mesmerizing and unique; fun 4 stars
4/26/02 Jeff Lecky your so right dave it hurts... good movie! 4 stars
4/25/02 Dave MacDougall it's no "Blood Simple" but it's worth seeing... 4 stars
4/23/02 Monday Morning Great looking film. Too bad it got slower and slower as it went on. 4 stars
4/19/02 Jubei It's an excellent b/w trip back to the film noir era with amazing direction, acting etc. 4 stars
4/18/02 Spyguy2 Is it over yet? NEXT!.... 2 stars
4/03/02 Edfink Lombardo The best film of 2001...Brilliantly written, acted, and directed...Darkly funny 5 stars
3/17/02 Teresa The characters kept doing the most unexpected things. 4 stars
3/02/02 Unagiboy A gorgeous film, visually and script-wise. 5 stars
2/28/02 Chowie beautiful film, great storyline, bawled my eyes out at the end, billy bob was great 5 stars
1/21/02 Geire Kami flawless 5 stars
1/03/02 ^Elendil^ ... and it's very funny. 4 stars
12/28/01 matthew smith a film to admire 4 stars
12/27/01 Belinda Great! Cast to perfection. 4 stars
12/13/01 Dominik Duprelle It IS a classy film, lovely photography, but I found it v slow personally.............. 3 stars
12/10/01 Neil Austin The Coens are Princes' among paupers. If only they could pump out films as quickly as Woody 5 stars
12/07/01 Philip (Flip) Kromer The longer it's been the more sense the movie makes... A deep work that stays with you 5 stars
11/15/01 Big D. Rivals Memento for best film of the year, this is a beautiful hitchcockian/coen hybrid. 5 stars
11/11/01 Robert Was it 'kinda boring'? Yes, but that was the entire point... 4 stars
11/10/01 Brian I thought this was a great film. Not only was the story great but it was beautifully shot. 5 stars
11/09/01 Martin Brooks The film was excellent, it simply flowed along to the relaxing mood enhancing music. 5 stars
11/02/01 ishwar ramani The camera movements are awesome and the film is very good in bringing out the cynicism 4 stars
10/30/01 Lucy Swan Beautifully shot, wonderfully lit, moodily atmospheric. Blacker than black humour... 4 stars
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  31-Oct-2001 (R)



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