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If you are a Coen Bros. fan then you have probably never been disappointed by one of their films. You may have your favorite but out and out hated one of their films? Doubtful.
Personally, I rank The Hudsucker Proxy not only as one of the best Coen Brothers films but a truly maligned and sadly, quickly dismissed film by a lot of people. On the other end, as much as I like Barton Fink I find it one of the least satisfying of their movies. The Man Who Wasn't There rings in on the scale around Barton Fink...not saying I didn't find things to admire in this film...it just isn't their best. For someone else this would be a great work, for the Coen Brothers? Middle of the road at best.
Much has been said about this flick in the film world, mostly raving about two things, the photography and Billy Bob Thornton's performance. The photography is stunning, Billy Bob's performance is not as stellar as all that. He is good, but the cast of talent around him outshine at every turn. To be fair, they do have the flashier roles.
Sticking to the rules of parody, homage and convention (by Coen Bros. standards), The Man Who Wasn't There is shot in black and white and recalls the edgy film noir era of movies like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Detour. Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is an unhappy barber living in California in the mid-1940s who discovers that his wife (Frances McDormand) has been unfaithful to him. He concocts a blackmailing scheme to teach her a lesson and provide him with the money to get in on the ground floor of a new enterprise of 'dry cleaning - cleaning without water!'. But when his plan backfires, the story becomes embroiled in murderous plots and ugly consequences.
My basic, humble and ever-so-slightly educated opinion tells me this. Tony Shalhoub should get an Oscar nomination for his best supporting role as the fast talking lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider. Even when flanked by all this talent his performance just shines out. A second nomination and from what I have seen this year, Oscar winner for cinematography should go to Roger Deakins (who has been nominated four times and has yet to win...The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun and O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Every picture is crisp, interesting and just amazing to behold.
But all this praise about being Billy Bob's best performance to date is just hogwash. Yes, I used the word hogwash. He has the most thankless role, I'll give him that. He has to play the least interesting man who barely speaks and when he does he never shows any emotion in his voice but Billy's best performance? I may not be his biggest supporter and I wish his wife would shut up in the press about their perfect life together but if forced I would say his best performance was in Sling Blade, bar none.
So many interesting moments in this film, some great dark film noir one-liners and fascinating characters and individuals but something never comes together here. It's just a fine little film but in the end you leave the theatre feeling cold, not hating it, just a little unfulfilled. The film wraps things up in a messy little package but you almost wonder if it was really worth the trip. I have to say, one viewing, yes, just to see what they have up their sleeve this time, but in the end it is isn't worth that second, third or ninth viewing I have given Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo or O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Copyright© Written By: Rob Paul
Audio Commentary by Joel and Ethan Coen also Featuring Billy Bob Thornton
Making The Man Who Wasn't There
Interview with Cinematographer Roger Deakins
The DVD Review:
Amazing news off the top, the Coen brothers are doing their first commentary. Let's hope this leads to them revisiting all their other films and giving some added insight.