Review 349: The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
The Man Who Wasn’t There is one of the last four Coen films left for me to watch. I didn’t know much about it other than it was black and white. Billy Bob Thornton doesn’t always work for me, but I love him in this film. In fact, this noir inspired film is as fantastic as it is quirky at times. The lighting in particular stood out to me making the film absolutely gorgeous. I give The Man Who Wasn’t There the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.
Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a chain-smoking barber who doesn’t say a whole lot. When an opportunity arises, he blackmails his wife, Doris’s (Frances McDormand), boss and lover, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini), to get the money he needs to make the investment. Brewster figures out and things get violent, and that’s when Crane’s plan goes terribly awry.
The Coen’s definitely make films that resonate with me. There haven’t been many that I don’t get into. This wasn’t won I was super into watching as Billy Bob Thornton isn’t a draw for me. Yet, his character is so mild and quiet, a far leap from his Bad Santa counterpart, he won me over. The character interests me so much because he really doesn’t seem all that concerned with things. He’s just seems somewhere between contentment and indifference as he moves through his life. When I realized he was the one blackmailing Brewster and Doris I was extremely shocked. I wondered how he had planned on getting the $10,000, but hadn’t expected him to use the affair his wife was having to do it.
There is great cast in this movie
Tony Shalhoub plays Freddy Riedenschneider, a fast talking defense attorney, that really steals the film. Every time he is in front of the camera he demands the attention. He is so funny and awful. He is everything that’s wrong with a lawyer, but he is also really good at it. Scarlett Johansson’s Birdy and her father, Walter (Richard Jenkins), are the only friends Ed through parts of the film. They’re extremely entertaining, but also the connection that Ed has with the high school aged Birdy made me uneasy. That’s explored and rewarded well by the Coen’s.
If you’re into the noir genre and like the Coen’s. It’s definitely their take on the genre, and they nail the lighting. The look of this film was probably my favorite part. It’s also relatively mild in a lot of the areas due to the period the film is set in. The language is toned down a bit and there are only allusions to sex. The film does have an R rating, but it feels more like a PG-13 by today’s standards. I’m glad I just bought this one instead of renting as I plan on watching it again.