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Review: Coen brothers' noir thriller may disappoint fans

The man who wasn't there is Billy Bob Thornton, and, contrary to the title, he is onscreen from the very beginning of the movie to the end. He plays indifferent barber Ed Crane, who is a betrayed husband and a naive, silent business partner. Surprise follows surprise, including the discovery of a dead body, which reveals dark secrets.
Filmed in black and white, the movie is a celebration of film noir, bearing all the genre's characteristic elements. The main hero, or more precisely the anti-hero, Crane, is a cynical, sinister and disillusioned character, who struggles to control his destiny and ultimately loses. His wife Doris (Frances McDormand) is the unloving, manipulative and desperate femme fatale who goads both him and her lover (James Gandolfini, aka Tony from the TV show The Sopranos) into criminal activity.


THORNTON not invisible.
photo: Courtesy of Intersonic

The Man Who Wasn't There

Running time: 116 min
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco
Directed by: Joel Coen
Rating: 6 out of 10

The man who wasn't there is Billy Bob Thornton, and, contrary to the title, he is onscreen from the very beginning of the movie to the end. He plays indifferent barber Ed Crane, who is a betrayed husband and a naive, silent business partner. Surprise follows surprise, including the discovery of a dead body, which reveals dark secrets.

Filmed in black and white, the movie is a celebration of film noir, bearing all the genre's characteristic elements. The main hero, or more precisely the anti-hero, Crane, is a cynical, sinister and disillusioned character, who struggles to control his destiny and ultimately loses. His wife Doris (Frances McDormand) is the unloving, manipulative and desperate femme fatale who goads both him and her lover (James Gandolfini, aka Tony from the TV show The Sopranos) into criminal activity.

Suspicion and doubt dominate the atmosphere of the film, and the game between appearances and reality is emphasized by low lighting, circling cigarette smoke and unusual camera angles. The settings are often interiors with light filtering through blind-covered windows or urban night scenes with deep shadows. Voice-over narration is used to explain or justify the actions of the main character.

The Man Who Wasn't There is precise in detail but very, very slow. It will definitely be a disappointment for all Big Lebowski fans because it does not have any of the black, sarcastic humour Ethan and Joel Coen are famous for.

Joel Coen was awarded best director for this film at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival. The script was written by both Coen brothers and produced by Ethan. The duo did not leave anything to chance and used a very familiar cast for this film; Michael Badalucco, playing Ed's brother-in-law, from O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Jon Polito, as the mysterious businessman, in his fifth Coen movie and, last but not least, McDormand, who won an Academy Award for best actress in Fargo and is Joel Coen's wife.

A promising new talent to watch out for is Scarlett Johansson, who plays Birdy, a Lolita-like character who appears in Ed's life when his wife is in prison.

The film contains many hints and allusions but gives few answers. If are you still wondering about the title, go see the movie.

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