2001; Rated R; 116 Minutes
Billy Bob Thornton: Ed Crane
Frances McDormand: Doris Crane
James Gandolfini: Big Dave
Michael Badalucco: Frank
Katherine Borowitz: Ann Nirdlinger
Produced by Tim Bevan, John Cameron, Ethan Coen,
Eric Fellner and Robert Graf; Directed by Joel Coen;
Screenwritten by Joel and Ethan Coen
by DAVID KEYES
Coen brothers ambitiously set out to prove something in
their latest feature, "The Man Who Wasn't There,"
but I'll be damned if I know what. The movie is one of their
most ambiguous, subtle and unrewarding endeavors to date,
and the fact that it adopts the most visually attractive
and nostalgic style seen in a picture this year only fuels
the obvious issue, which is that "Fargo" is their
masterpiece and lightning will likely not strike in the
same place twice.
movie stars Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane, a local barber
who lives the standard middle-class life in a town where
no one ever seems to acknowledge his presence. His wife,
Doris (Frances McDormand) is a relatively reserved woman
who, when she's not working at the local furniture store,
spends the most of her time playing Bingo at church. Ed's
seeming obsoleteness is even apparent in Doris' attitude,
so much so that she seems to take a liking to her boss Big
Dave, and Ed quickly notices.
day at work, Ed meets an out-of-town businessman with aspirations
of building an empire on a new (but perhaps revolutionary)
idea: that of dry-cleaning service. Ed is spurred by the
concept and decides he wants to be part of the cause. The
businessman offers to make him a partner, but the deal has
to be reached via a contribution of $10,000 on Mr. Crane's
where does an average American man like Ed get his hands
on so much money? By pretending to be an outside source,
he blackmails Big Dave for the money, insisting that if
he doesn't pay up, he will expose his affair with Doris
to the public, thereby ruining his public reputation. Ed
succeeds in pulling off the scheme, but eventually Dave
catches on to the barber's deception and confronts him.
During a tense struggle that involves lots of punches and
broken glass, Ed grabs the nearest sharp object he can find
and murders Dave. The resulting outcome, unfortunately,
has Doris being arrested for his crime.
the story progresses, it becomes even more obvious about
how many opportunities are missed with "The Man Who
Wasn't There." The picture has every notable touch
of film noir down to a science, from the barely lit and
smoky hallways to the sheer obscurity of the characters'
human emotions. Even Thornton and McDormand, two extraordinary
actors, have the facial structures and attitudes seemingly
made for this period of storytelling, and the use of Ed
as a semi-narrator to the audience is spot on. Yet the Coens'
screenplay is a mash of ideas and metaphors that never quite
manage to gel. Aside from the fact that they don't provide
clear themes for us to explore (the movie even tries, in
a rather disjointed way, to describe the process of cutting
hair as a metaphor for life), they begin their story in
a subtle manner and refuse to pick up the pace until after
all the majority of the crucial events have played out.
It isn't until the final 20 minutes when we are able to
throw back our heads be amazed by what is happening. I will
even go further to say that there is one moment briefly
before the resolution in which we are delivered an unexpected,
jolting but masterfully executed plot twist that temporarily
renews our excitement.
biggest mistake, above all others, is the script's inability
to create a sense of admiration towards the main character.
As Ed's story unfolds, we feel no sympathy or connection
to him whatsoever; the alienation he experiences in life
is undoubtedly reflected on many of us, but there appears
to be little effort on his part to make a difference until
after it's too late. Ed may be very well be the man who
wasn't there, but that's not the only thing absent from
this letdown of a motion picture.
2001, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.