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"The Man Who Wasn't There"

Directed by Joel Coen.
Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. 
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Galdolfini and Tony Shalhoub.
Release Year:  2001
Review Date:  11/15/01 


Today, I went to another new theater (for me, anyway) near my place, and this one is kind of like the old Key Theater back in films only.  The only theater showing my current choice was this theater, so it kind of worked out real good-like.

"The Man Who Wasn't There" is a pretty intriguing film.  It is also my second-favorite film of the year now (if you don't know what the first one is, then you must be new to this list).  This film, from the Coen Brothers (most famously of "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", and my favorite Coen Bros. film, "Raising Arizona"), is one of the most beautifully shot films I have ever seen.  Billy Bob Thornton plays a character named Ed Crane, and Thornton plays so far from his most recent work as a criminal in "Bandits" that it almost seems like another guy.  But, that is Thornton for you—an incredible actor, and as commercially underappreciated as he is multitalented:  vastly!  Here, his Ed Crane is just about the most unemotional guy you could ever meet, and he is quiet, and he is dedicated to nothing.  In fact, as he tells you regularly throughout the film in voice-over, "I'm just a barber."  He cuts hair during the day, then comes home to listen to his wife Doris (Frances McDormand, who is married to one of the Coen Brothers...but, I can never remember which one).

When the film opens in Northern California of 1949, we find out that Doris may or may not be cheating on Ed with her boss, "Big Dave" (James Gandolfini, trying to set Tommy Lee Jones' record for most films in one calendar year).  And, that is what sets the film in motion.

Much like last year's Coen Brothers offering "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", this movie seems like it might be moving in molasses at times, but that is not such a bad thing.  Part of that is Thornton, who is featured in almost every scene and takes his time meandering through haircuts, conversations, or just smoking cigarettes.  And, part of that is a drawn-out third act, which was satisfying to me but it took a little while to get to.

What makes this film so good, I have decided, are three things:

1) The cinematography.  Some of the shots in this film are amazing, and Thornton's perfect coif and pressed suits look great just sitting there on him, as he takes in the scenery.  Light coming in through windows during an afternoon hasn't looked this good on film in a while.  Fully expect this film to be up for an Oscar in this category.

2) The pacing overall is great.  Like I said, there are points where it is slow...but, the music and perfectly-timed moments of humor, drama, violence and surprise make you stay awake the whole way through.  And, it comes in at just under two hours...excellent.

3) Tony Shalhoub.  Shalhoub ("The Siege", this year's "Spy Kids"), I believe, should be Oscar-nominated for this performance.  He is only in five scenes or so, and his hot-shot lawyer is nothing earthshattering in terms of originality.  But, his fast-talking cocky personality provides great relief in the film's second half, when Ed and Doris need some representation.  The scenes that take place in the prison interrogation rooms are laugh-out-loud funny.  Much like the guy that played Chaucer in "A Knight's Tale", his appearance on-screen alone will make you start to giggle like a schoolchild.

This film doesn't have Salma Hayek, but it's got everything else.  It is not showing in too many cities though, so hopefully you live in a major film market!!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09