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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 Chris Parry

"A case of style over substance, Coens or not."
3 stars

The Man Who Wasn't There may well serve as a catalyst for tastes to swing from one direction to another. Coen Brothers fans are unlikely to find the ingredients that made Raising Arizona, Fargo and O Brother Where Art Thou such delectable treats, while those that generally see Billy Bob Thornton as an overrated Bubba may find it tough to keep passing him off as unworthy of attention. To be sure, the movie ain't that hot, but the eery noir mood and Billy Bob's performance are just about worth the price of admission... uh.. rental.

Ed Crane (Thornton) is not a man who lives life to the fullest. In fact, you could barely say he lives life at all. Muddling through his existence with a perpetually-dangling cigarette, a monotone voice and a seemingly carved in stone haircut, Crane is so maudlin that if the film were shot in color, he'd no doubt still be rendered in shades of grey.

And that's the way the Coen Brothers want it. In this film they've set out to create a study in boredom, with every detail and emotion and character trait being something you have to dig out with your own bare hands. As pointed out by Roger Ebert in his review, this is very much a 90-minute film that plays over two hours, though I'd caution against reading the old man's thoughts if you don't want to know how the film ends ahead of time (Thanks a ton, Roger).

Crane is in a lifelong rut. He shows up to work, cuts hair, goes home to a wife (Frances McDormand) who prefers he not talk, goes to sleep, wakes up, repeats. Although Crane seems more than accepting of his dreary fate in life, a chance encounter with a dry cleaning entrepreneur sees Ed decide to make a change. Guessing that his wife is bouncing bones with her well-to-do boss (James Gandolfini), Ed opts to tread the fine line of legality in a bid to do something different with his existence.

Thornton is astoundingly good here, and the Coens have captured him equally as well. Every frame in this film is like a Rockwell painting, or a Doisneau photograph; a moment in time brought back from another era, reminding us of how things used to be. Aesthetically, this film is Oscar calibre, but that's about where the excellence stops.

It's not that The Man Who Wasn't There is an awful film; it's just not a great one. The pace is mired in stylistic quicksand, the narrative is told almost solely from Billy Bob's narration, the characters almost cartoonish and the twists in the tale aren't particularly twisted.

The Coen Brothers are perhaps the most talented, nuanced, fiercely independent filmmakers in North America today, but you can't bat a thousand over an entire season, and as such this could best be described as their career equivalent of an infield fly; simple to deal with, unspectacular for the fans, and ultimately a forgettable moment in the Coens' big league careers.

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originally posted: 05/02/03 11:47:42
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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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