Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, James Gandolfini, Katherine Borowitz
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 116 minutes
For all of its late-1940s cold war paranoia, pulp fiction dialogue, and frenzied greed, Joel and Ethan Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There is their most cool and collected film since Blood Simple. An unassuming barber with a scheming wife (Frances McDormand) and a serious smoking habit, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is an onlooker to his own life, a ghostly presence set against a silver-toned film noir backdrop. Only when he decides to alter his fate by blackmailing his wife's lover (James Gandolfini) in order to invest with a traveling salesman (Jon Polito) touting the wave of the future--dry cleaning--do we begin to hear the full extent of Ed's understated, existential lament. As his lawyer (Tony Shalhoub) says in Ed's defense at his eventual trial for murder, "He is modern man." Thornton's deadpan eloquence and cinematographer Roger Deakins's precision lighting offer the perfect counterbalance to the requisite one-liners, plot twists, and false endings that have come to characterize recent Coen brothers films. Almost in spite of the obsessive cultural references (flying saucers, Nabokov's Lolita, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle), Ed Crane steps neatly from the fray as one of cinema's most memorably disenchanted characters. --Fionn Meade
They got this guy, in Germany. Fritz Something-or-other. Or is it? Maybe it's Werner. Anyway, he's got this theory, you wanna test something, you know, scientifically - how the planets go round the sun, what sunspots are made of, why the water comes out of the tap - well, you gotta look at it. But sometimes you look at it, your looking changes it. Ya can't know the reality of what happened, or what would've happened if you hadn't-a stuck in your own goddamn schnozz. So there is no "what happened"? Not in any sense that we can grasp, with our puny minds. Because our minds... our minds get in the way. Looking at something changes it. They call it the "Uncertainty Principle". Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy's on to something.
And then it was Riedenschneider's turn. I gotta hand it to him, he tossed a lot of sand in their eyes. He talked about how I'd lost my place in the universe; how I was too ordinary to be the criminal mastermind the D.A. made me out to be; how there was some greater scheme at work that the state had yet to unravel. And he threw in some of the old "truth" stuff he hadn't had a chance to trot out for Doris. He told them to look at me, look at me close. That the closer they looked, the less sense it would all make; that I wasn't the kind of guy to kill a guy; that I was The Barber, for Christsake. I was just like them - an ordinary man. Guilty of living in a world that had no place for me, yeah. Guilty of wanting to be a dry cleaner, sure. But not a murderer. He said I *was* modern man, and if they voted to convict me, well, they'd be practically cinching the noose around their own necks. He told them to look, not at the facts, but at the meaning of the facts. Then he said the facts had no meaning. It was a pretty good speech. It even had me going...