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The Man Who Wasn't There
2001 - R - 116 Mins.
Director: Joel Coen
Producer: Ethan Coen
Written By: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Tony Shaloub, Michael Badalucco, Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Film noirs have been done excellently over the past years, but not many are as great as they could be. That’s why, after seeing commercials and reading reviews for “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” I expected a lot from the film. Unfortunately, it was very disappointing.

Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is second-hand at a barbershop in 1949. He “doesn’t talk much,” he says “I just cut the hair.” Well, that’s true. Ed Crane barely talks at all. The only thing we hear from him throughout the film is his strangely soft and unmoving voice-over narrative recalling the accounts of the past few weeks of his quiet life.

The story begins when Crane suspects that his wife (Academy Award Winner Frances McDormand) is having an affair with the rich manager of a clothing store, named Big Dave (James Gandolfini). After Crane hears about a dry cleaning scam from a customer, he blackmails Big Dave for ten thousand dollars to invest in the dry cleaning business. Unfortunately, Big Dave soon finds out who the blackmailer is, and in a moment of self-defense, Crane kills Big Dave.
Now, Crane’s wife has been convicted of murder, and everything in his life goes downhill from there on…

“The Man Who Wasn’t There” starts off very good. The beginning credits were more than reminiscent of the Humphrey Bogart era, and so was the calm voice-over by Thornton. I was instantly engaged in the story of this man living in a small town in California, and how his life could possibly get any worse. Well, after about an hour, the film had barely moved along at all. The pacing for this movie is very slow, and there are many films that could – and should – have been cut not only due to time, but because they paid nothing to the film’s progress or character development in any way.

Billy Bob Thornton is very good as Ed Crane, and uses the same quiet technique as he did with the character in “Sling Blade.” The movie is worth seeing just for his convincing performance.

Frances McDormand is quite believable as his wife; the kind of small-town wife you always hear about. Bingo on Tuesday, alcohol throughout the week; she seems very depressed, and that is probably why she begins to have an affair with Big Dave.

James Gandolfini would not be my first choice for the character of Big Dave, but he pulled it off quite nicely. The obese man proves he has more acting talent than just playing Tony Soprano (John Goodman would have made a nice choice for Big Dave, only because he is almost always in the Coen Brothers’ films and it seems like they wrote the part for him. I’m surprised they didn’t get him for the part – maybe they tried and he refused?).

Tony Shaloub (“Men In Black”) plays the most enjoyable role of a big-town lawyer sent in to defend McDormand’s character. He is wacky, enjoyable, and his crazy antics make the film. His are the only scenes I really laughed at. It seemed the most like a “Fargo Moment.”

The Coen Brothers, creators of “Fargo” and the disappointing “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” wrote and directed this film (well, Joel directed, Ethan produced, they both wrote the script…).

I was in the minority about “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” I thought the film was boring, slow-paced and weird (what was the ending all about?). “Fargo” was excellent, mainly because it was demented humor and a great script, with some great actors. This film, however, seems to be boasting “original” all over. It seems the brothers are trying to stuff their recent films with odd bits and pieces to make them original. Well, I didn’t find it original.

In the end, “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is not a winner. It could have been, but after an hour the film seems to slow down to a miserably slow pace, without any good surprises (like no one saw the end coming?). How this got so much attention from the critics is beyond me, because it just seems like one of those “Look at me! I’m original!” films. That’s two disappointing Coen Brothers films in a row. For me, at least.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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