The Man Who Wasn't There

The Man Who Wasn't There


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It's all in the title. Where's Eddie Crane? He's not there. That's the problem.

Even the Coen Bros cannot stimulate interest in a guy who has switched the lights off inside his head. Eddie (Billy Bob Thornton) narrates the movie, as if telling his story to a brick wall. He talks about himself without passion, or blame.

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He is the deputy cutter in his brother-in-law's barber shop, married to Doris (Frances McDormand), who works for Dave (James Gandolfini) as bookkeeper in his department store. They haven't made love for seven years. They haven't made conversation for six.

This is small town California in the late Forties. Shot in grey monochrome, it reflects the pallor and personality of its protagonist. Secondary characters appear eccentric by comparison, which may be the point. If you don't speak, others speak for you. Eddie has one individual trait. He is never seen without a cigarette in his mouth.

There are shades of Fargo here, although William H Macy's ineffectual car salesman was a load of laughs compared to Eddie. It is the story of a botched blackmail and its consequences. The Coens love irony and so there are tangled twists all over the place, the wrong person being accused of someone else's crime and someone else being arrested for a murder committed by the man he killed. All very complicated and unconvincing.

Things happen that have no explanation and other things that make no sense in the context of the period. There is a scene in a car with a teenage girl that would never have occurred in the Forties and a flying saucer suddenly hovers over a prison yard for no particular reason, except it's a dream. Or is it?

The dialogue is smart, as you would expect, and the supporting cast encrusted with diamonds, such as Tony Shalhoub's defence lawyer and John Polito's itinerant entrepreneur. Gandolfini and McDormand do so well, you cry for an encore, but you cry in vain. This is Eddie's story. Thornton moves slowly through the closed rooms of his imagination like a ghost, working hard to perfect an expressionless performance.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2001
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An introspective barber in a small Californian town in the Forties initiates a blackmail that goes wrong.
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Director: Joel Coen

Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Tony Shalhoub, John Polito, Scarlett Johanssen

Year: 2001

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


EIFF 2001

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