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Man Who Wasn't There
     

The Man Who Wasn't There

4.0 3
Director: Joel Coen, Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco

Cast: Joel Coen, Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco

 

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Set in a sleepy Northern California town in the 1940s, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There stars Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane, a humble barber who suspects his hard-hearted and hard-drinking wife Doris (Frances McDormand) of having an affair with her boss (James Gandolfini). When a jocular stranger (Jon Polito) breezes into town hinting at the

Overview

Set in a sleepy Northern California town in the 1940s, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There stars Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane, a humble barber who suspects his hard-hearted and hard-drinking wife Doris (Frances McDormand) of having an affair with her boss (James Gandolfini). When a jocular stranger (Jon Polito) breezes into town hinting at the fortune to be made investing in an outlandish-sounding new invention called dry cleaning, Ed hatches a blackmail scheme he hopes will make him rich and get him some revenge at the same time. His plan goes horribly awry when he accidentally commits a murder for which Doris ends up being blamed, landing her in the slammer and Ed at the mercy of blowhard big-city lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub). Filmed in black-and-white by three-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, The Man Who Wasn't There was inspired by the seedy crime novels of James M. Cain, putting a distinctly Coen brothers' spin on the film noir tradition. Though spiked with their characteristic humor, its moody atmosphere hearkens back to the darker moments of Blood Simple and Fargo -- a marked departure from the high-spirited slapstick of O Brother Where Art Thou. ~ Tom Vick

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble
This intricately plotted, beautifully photographed homage to post-World War II film noir is nothing short of remarkable -- even if it’s also, in the words of noir novelist James M. Cain, "just a little bit cold around the heart." Billy Bob Thornton, who’s undeniably compelling in his most restrained performance ever, plays a taciturn small-town barber who blackmails his wife’s philandering boss. He just wants enough money to invest in a dry-cleaning business, but his scheme goes horribly awry when the blackmail victim turns up dead -- and the finger of suspicion points in the barber’s direction. Frances McDormand plays Thornton’s brittle wife with just the right touch of weary indignation, and James Gandolfini is letter-perfect as her smarmy employer. Jon Polito (as a smooth-talking promoter), Tony Shalhoub (as a hard-charging lawyer), and Scarlett Johansson (as a virginal teen) all deliver memorable supporting turns. The script by filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), while clearly inspired by such classic films as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, playfully tweaks genre conventions with welcome flashes of black humor. The crisp, Oscar-nominated black-and-white cinematography of Roger Deakins evokes noir masterpieces of the ‘40s and enhances the shadowy, unsettling atmosphere conjured up by the Coens. The Man Who Wasn’t There shows the talented brothers at the top of their game and is a top-flight melodrama that bears comparison to the best examples of the genre it celebrates. Joel and Ethan supply a commentary for the DVD -- their first ever, with Thornton along for the ride. There are also deleted scenes, interviews with principal cast members, a making-of featurette, and a photo gallery.
All Movie Guide
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen have often been dogged by accusations that they're content to use their prodigious talent to do nothing more than celebrate their own cleverness, and that for all the snappy dialogue and visual flair, their films amount to cynical jokes at the expense of the dull-witted characters who populate them. The Man Who Wasn't There features striking cinematography and meticulous set design, both of which perfectly invoke the aura of film noir. Whether or not it's just another empty stylistic exercise, a noir homage with none of the genre's moral ambiguity or political subversiveness, it's still one of the Coen brothers' most involving explorations of self-delusion, irony, and fate. Billy Bob Thornton's Ed Crane is a man so nondescript that neighbors are always forgetting his name and no one seems to recognize him when he's not wearing his barber's smock. As he embarks on his poorly planned blackmail scheme, he even comes to see his invisibility as a kind of freedom, that is until the consequences of his actions begin to mount. Much like he did in Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, Thornton endows his character with a tragic dimension that gives the film a weight it might not otherwise possess. His prolonged silences and blank stares suggest a deep sadness that no one around him seems to see or care about. The film's central idea, that one impulsive action can set in motion a web of fate that ultimately ensnares the hero, not only pays tribute to pulp novelists like James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, it's also an implicit tribute to the German director Fritz Lang, whose American noirs often revolved around that very theme. Indeed, The Man Who Wasn't There includes a number of subtle references to Lang. Tony Shalhoub's blustery attorney Freddy Riedenschneider's name resembles that of a Lang character, and he repeatedly talks about "this German guy named Werner, or was it Fritz," while bathed in cinematographer Roger Deakins' gorgeous, high-contrast Langian light (this isn't the first reference to Lang in the Coen brothers' oeuvre; Blood Simple quotes an image from Lang's Ministry of Fear: bullets piercing a door, creating intense shafts of light in a darkened room). While the film follows a tragic trajectory, the Coens can't resist leavening it with oddball humor. Frances McDormand plays Doris Crane as a boozy, high-camp parody of those classic tough-talking noir heroines, and there are a couple of red herring subplots involving UFOs and a Lolita-esque neighborhood girl (Scarlett Johansson) in whose budding musical career Ed takes an interest. Amusing in themselves, these diversions do little to advance the plot, yet don't detract from the film's final impact, which tempers Ed's doom with a hint of transcendence.
New York Times - A.O. Scott
Full of delightful idiosyncrasies and surprising bits of acting.
Washington Post
A glorious tribute to the splendors of what should rightfully be called the blackish and whitish movie. Stephen Hunter
Chicago Sun-Times - Roger Ebert

The Man Who Wasn't There is so assured and perceptive in its style, so loving, so intensely right, that if you can receive on that frequency, the film is like a voluptuous feast.

Product Details

Release Date:
04/16/2002
UPC:
0696306031932
Original Release:
2001
Rating:
R
Source:
Polygram Usa Video

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Billy Bob Thornton Ed Crane
Frances McDormand Doris Crane
Michael Badalucco Frank
James Gandolfini Big Dave
Tony Shalhoub Freddy Riedenschneider
Jon Polito Creighton Tolliver
Scarlett Johansson Birdy Abundas
Richard Jenkins Walter Abundas
Katherine Borowitz Ann Nirdlinger
Adam Alexi-Malle Carcanogues

Technical Credits
Joel Coen Director,Screenwriter
Tim Bevan Executive Producer
Carter Burwell Score Composer
John Cameron Co-producer
Ellen Chenoweth Casting
Ethan Coen Producer,Screenwriter
Tricia Cooke Editor
Roger Deakins Cinematographer
Eric Fellner Executive Producer
Dennis Gassner Production Designer
Chris Gorak Art Director
Robert Graf Associate Producer
Roderick Jaynes Editor
Peter Kurland Sound/Sound Designer
Betsy Magruder Asst. Director
Jeff Markwith Set Decoration/Design
Chris Spellman Set Decoration/Design
Mary Zophres Costumes/Costume Designer

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The Man Who Wasn't There 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
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