ROVIN' AND RAVIN' WITH MIKE
Copyright © 2001 by Michael Segers, All rights reserved
The Man Who Wasn't There
Coen brothers, one of the few director/producer teams that have assumed almost
trademark status, are at it again, and with the Coens, we never can be sure what
it is. This
time out, with The Man Who Wasn't There, it is a fascinating black and
white tribute to a long-gone style of film-making, brightened by the best
performance Billy Bob Thornton has ever given. (For once, he doesn't act
like Billy Bob Thornton.)
For a leisurely couple of hours, which at times stretch a little thin, we
return to the sculpted black and white images of the “black film” or film
noir (scroll down to "Popcorn" if you aren't familiar with
the term)—those giddy messes of pessimism and great lighting, booze and
bawdiness (or at least the suggestion thereof), and always a grim, deterministic
morality underlying the whole business.
This is every frame a Coen flick, and nobody else could have pulled this
There is a lot going on, in this tale of small town barber Ed Crane (Thornton),
a slow, simple man caught up in rapidly piling up complexity.
He is stuck in a small town, stuck in a small barber shop, stuck in a
meaningless marriage with Doris (Frances McDormand), who works for Dave (James
Gandolfini), and—Ed suspects—has an affair with him as well.
And, like the best of the film noir bunch, Ed smokes.
Well, it gives him something to do with his mouth.
It’s hard to talk about this film without giving away developments in the plot
that you need to find out for yourself.
Let’s just say that Doris goes to jail for….
Oh, well, you’ll find out, but meanwhile Ed scrapes up the money to
hire a flamboyant defense lawyer (Tony Shalhoub, one of those actors whose names
you can’t remember but whose wide range of small, significant roles you
While many a shyster lawyer can get
you by or through the thicket of the laws of the United States or at
least of the State of California, no one can help you when you are facing the
laws of fate.
We are in the territory of fate here.
Ed is a sort of Everyman, someone who wants more than has been spooned up
for him. For
starters, he would like a life, a chance to be there (intentional homage to
Chance the Gardener in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There), to be
somewhere, not just to smoke anywhere.
And if murder is the only way he can get there….
Oh, well, you’ll find out.
This is not a film for everyone, in fact, perhaps, not for very many ones.
But, if you love film, if you love the sheer possibility of the medium,
then, this film’s for you.
One of the main problems that I’ve found general audiences have with
film critics is that audiences in general tend to judge a film
If the story is good (a “thrill ride,” as so many movie ads proclaim
nowadays) or if the special effects rock the house (literally, sometimes), then,
it must be a rocking good film.