[Movie Review] The Man Who Wasn't There

The Man Who Wasn't ThereStarring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco, Jon Polito
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

Since this is a Coens movie, you can only expect one outcome. That is for me to decalre it as a triumph and encourage you to go see it. Well, yes I will. Once again brothers Joel and Ethan, who share co-writing credits but a single direction credit for Joel, have delivered a finely crafted and stylish comic thriller.

What a defining shot - Billy Bob, as Ed Crane.A difficult plot to dissect without spoiling, it starts with Ed Crane (Thornton – “Sling Blade”, “Bandits”, “Primary Colours”, “Armageddon”), a quiet chain-smoking barber describing a typical day in his uneventful life. As talkative as Crane is silent, his brother-in-law Frank (Badalucco – TVs “The Practice”) shares hair-cutting duties in their family barbers business. Ed’s passive nature sees him badgered into a dead-end marriage with Frank’s sister Doris (McDormand – Oscar winner for “Fargo”, “Almost Famous”, “Primal Fear”). This leads to Doris having an affair with Ed’s best friend, Big Dave (Gandolfini – TVs “The Sopranos”), something which Ed suspects, but decides to let go.

When quirky entrepreneur, Creighton Tolliver (Polito – “Stuart Little”, “The Big Lebowski”, “The Crow”), rambles on about a new business venture that he is seeking a $10,000 investment for, Ed sees it as an opportunity to take a little risk and step outside of his ordinary life. However, his methods in obtaining the money lead him into an unthinkable chain-reaction of events that end up destroying not only his life, but the lives of everyone around him.

The beauty about the Coen’s complex writing is the ability it has to enable subtle actions lead to events that seemed inconceivable before they happened. In this respect, “The Man Who Wasn’t There” bears a resemblance to the superb “Fargo”, even if the style is far removed from the Oscar nominated movie. Filmed entirely in black-and-white, the craggy and withdrawn features of Thornton in the lead role are about as perfect a piece of casting as you could imagine. Thornton manages to deliver a host of reactions and personality characteristics through the bare minimum of expressions. Humorously compare this to the expressionless Harrison Ford who manages to look like a piece of cardboard in most performances.

Coen directs with a nonchalant lack of vigour although the story moves at a steady pace. Close-up shots of the main protagonists tell a story that might take a number of lines of dialogue in other circumstances, and the lack of urgency is to the film-makers credit.

It’s not just writing and directing where the Coen’s succeed consistently, it is also their ability to cast suitably rather Ed and Big Dave discuss feeling noir-ish.than hire names that will put bums on seats. Micahel Badalucco is hilarious as big-kid, Frank, while Polito excels as the money-hungry entrepreneur. Tony Shalhoub (“Spy Kids”, “Galaxy Quest”, “A Civil Action”, “Primary Colours”) steals numerous scenes as heartless, fast-talking lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider and the amusing good-cop/good-cop double act of Christopher Kriesa and Brian Haley is notable for the few scenes they pop into.

This movie will have you thinking for days. It is a triumph, and you should go see it. But I told you that a good few paragraphs ago.



[Movie Review] O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother, Where Art Thou?Starring: George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Durning, Holly Hunter
Director: Joel Coen
Genre: Comedy
Cert: 15
Released: 2000

Sentenced to hard labour for a daring armoured car robbery, Ulysses Everett McGill (Clooney), convinces fellow convicts Pete (Turturro) and Delmar (Nelson) to escape with him and find the loot that he hid after the robbery. Their progress to the treasure is slowed by a number of quirky characters in front of them, while behind them are a ferocious group of Mississippi lawmen whose sniffer dogs are able to follow the trail of Everett?s empty hair wax tins.

Desptie numerous setbacks, they make it to Everett?s town, and he gets a surprise when he finds that his wife (Hunter) has told his seven kids that he was killed by a train, and she is set to re-marry the next day. Everett needs to move fast to win his wife back, but can he rely on Pete and Delmar after they discover his ulterior motives for breaking out of jail?

Some people shrug their shoulders when they watch a Coens movie and wonder what all the fuss is about. But the brothers have the ability to do the little things well, and it is these little things which add up to deliver so many enjoyable filems. Take the inspired casting of Clooney. His delightfully accomplished delivery of hilarious lines (?you two are just dumber than a bag of hammers?, or when asked why he is in charge he replies ?I figured it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought. But if that ain’t the consensus view, then hell, let’s put it to a vote?) means he is often the scene-stealer.

The simple-man acts of Turturro and Nelson might have normally been grating, but both come up trumps with quality turns. But as usual the whole cast shines. Michael Badalucco is starting to make a name for himself thanks to the Coens, and his outrageous over-stated bank robber character is memorable. Charles Durning is briliant as hateful political hopeful, Pappy O?Daniel, and it?s no surprise to see John Goodman sparkle in his brief turn as a bible salesman.

The pace is frenetic from start to finish, and any time there is a slow down to accommodate any reflective moments, it does so in the fun spirit of the movie. Sometimes you feel like you are watching a 2001 version of the Three Stooges, and that’s as high praise as I think you can get! Inventive as ever, casted perfectly, written and directed with style. The Coens really know how to entertain and get the best out of something that is wonderful anyway.