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July 2002                                                         SITE MAP   SEARCH
The Man Who Wasn't There
cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco, and Tony Shaloub

writers and directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

116 minutes (15) 2001
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
EV DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Ellen Cheshire
Beautifully shot in black and white, the Coen brothers' latest film confounded critics and audiences. Those that went to see it (and there weren't that many) were confused by it. The Man Who Wasn't There tells the tale of Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) a barber in the small town of Santa Rosa who decides that he wants to become the silent partner in a dry cleaning enterprise. As the film is set in the 1950s this is new and exciting opportunity for the dour Ed. The catch? He needs $10,000 to invest - so what does he do? Naturally he blackmails his wife's boss and lover, Big Dave (James Gandolfini), which leads to the arrest of Ed's wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), the bankruptcy and breakdown of her brother Frank (Michael Badalucco) when he tries to pay the exorbitant fees of one very expensive lawyer, Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub).
   This all sounds pretty straightforward were it not for the fact that the entire film is told in flashback with Ed providing a dense and verbose voiceover narrative. Ed's running commentary on his life is at odds with the Ed we see on screen. There he barely says a word, he is a man who isn't there - he is overlooked and forgotten, and although he makes no impact on those he meets (or indeed the audience) he is your typical Coen 'hero'. When he makes that fatal decision to blackmail Big Dave it is the start of a typical Coen chain reaction where a dumb schlub gets in way over his head and enters a dark world of murder, blackmail and betrayal. He is right up there with Marty in Blood Simple, Hi in Raising Arizona, Jerry in Fargo, the Dude in The Big Lebowski and Ulysses Everett McGill in O Brother, Where Art Thou?
   Even more confusing are the dream sequences and flights of fancy - leading the audience to constantly question what is real and what is Ed's imagination. Despite this, the film still holds your interest and further viewings don't help clear these up the narrative becomes more cryptic yet more compelling.
   DVD extras include: an entertaining but not terribly illuminating commentary with the directors and star. Your standard making-of documentary with interviews with key cast and crew (16 minutes), an extensive and very interesting interview with cinematographer Roger Deakins (46 minutes), and some deleted material - one scene and four shots.
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