the man who wasn't there
Written and Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen
Released 2001

Although not a true example of the film noir genre, The Man Who Wasn’t There, provides a glimpse of the darker side of life in a small 1940s Californian town. In contrast to traditional film noir, the film’s main character, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thorton), is not the loud, obnoxious, sleazy anti-hero that haunts the shadows. Instead he is respected barber, a man of few words, and has everything that most middle-class men of the 1940s had: stable job, wife, and a straightforward existence.

Ed doesn’t “realize” that he’s unhappy and needs something new in his life until a providential meeting with Jon Polito, a man in town to gain investors for a string of dry cleaning stores. Ed begins to imagine that he will obtain satisfaction for himself if only he had the money to invest with Mr. Polito. From that point forward, he makes choices that lead him into the depths of deception, murder, and his own soul. His descent is both painful to watch and impossible to ignore and through his story we are able to see where a lack of contentedness can lead.

To support the film’s theme of a descent, the film’s cinematographer Roger Deakins provides a starkly beautiful backdrop on which the action takes place. His experience and commitment to art is readily apparent in this film as in a number of his other efforts: O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo, and The Shawshank Redemption.

Along with the marvelous story and incredible cinematography, the performances in the film are phenomenal. Billy Bob Thorton’s portrayal of Ed Crane is a performance he has been unable to deliver since Sling Blade. In addition, the supporting cast is overflowing with other great actors, including Frances McDormand as Doris Crane, Michael Badalucco as the owner of the barbershop, and Freddy Riedenschender as the famous defense attorney, just to name a few.

In short, pick up this movie the next time you are in the video store. You won’t regret it.

Charlie Bradshaw

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