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    The Man Who Wasn't There

    The film that isn't all there

    "The Man Who Wasn't There" is another sharply written, crisply shot, pleasurably eccentric and yet slightly bloodless outing with the Coen Brothers.


    "The Man Who Wasn't There" is another quirky, intelligent, beautifully photographed and finely crafted movie from the Brothers Coen (Joel directs, Ethan produces, and the two of them continue to write some of the smartest dialogue you're ever likely to hear this side of the Adirondacks).

    Directed by: Joel Coen.
    Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen.
    Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco, Katherine Borowitz, Jon Polito, Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins, Tony Shalhoub..
    Cinematography: Roger Deakins.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    It's a film noir shot in crisp black and white (stunningly so by Coen mainstay Roger Deakins) and brimming with trademark noir characters: a small-town barber (Billy Bob Thornton) who stoops to small-time blackmail in order to get ahead; his cheating wife (Frances McDormand), who's cooking the books and then some with her boss, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini); an oily con man (Jon Polito); the town sot (Richard Jenkins) and his talented teenage daughter (Scarlett Johansson); and a fast-talking Sacramento lawyer (an energetic Tony Shalhoub, fresh from "Thirteen Ghosts") who flies into town to defend the barber, now on a murder rap.

    However, like the Coens' last film "O Brother, Where Art Thou," "The Man Who Wasn't There" suffers from a distinct coldness around the heart.

    The film, while slick, professional, and well acted, feels more like a cinematic exercise ("let's do a b/w noir this time") than a completely satisfying movie. The whole sub-plot with Johansson's character, for example, doesn't really work and the writing, while typical of the Coens' uniquely diverting style, never really touches on brilliant (the way "Blood Simple" or "Raising Arizona," say, did).

    But the photography is so sharp, so compelling, that you want to reach out and frame just about every other close-up of Thornton, a cigarette permanently affixed to his bottom lip. This chameleon-like actor (think of Eric Roberts' early work) plays Ed Crane with a vacancy as monotone as his voiceover. It's a fine performance if incredibly one-note.

    "One note" is probably the best way to describe the sum of the parts of "The Man Who Wasn't There." It's good, but from these boys we've long since come to expect great.

    NOVEMBER 23, 2001

    Reader comments on The Man Who Wasn't There:

  • Coens   from Blake McDonald, May 10, 2002
  • The Man Who Wasn't There   from Adhemar Testa, Jan 18, 2003
  • The Man Who Wasn't There   from Baltimore Ralph, Apr 1, 2003
  • wow   from Rachael Kenyon, Feb 26, 2003
  • Camus   from Kelly, Dec 29, 2003
  • Re: Camus   from Loz, Mar 7, 2007
  • The alien aspect   from Patricia, Jan 15, 2005

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