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The Man Who Wasn't There

Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, James Gandolfini, Tony Shalhoub
Screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen
Directed by Joel Coen

IN SHORT: A fine rush. [Rated R for a scene of violence. 116 minutes]

I'll tell you what we love about the movies made by Ethan and Joel Coen (Joel does the directing and the pair share the script credits). We love their formula. They can start at point A and proceed to an ending at point B, while sidetracking to points Q, R, Z and L before getting back to the main story, usually involving a character whose has been discombobulated. In this case we are stopped in some Anytown, America, sometime in the 1950s. Everybody knows his place: the Butcher, the Banker, the Barber, the housewife and so forth. In this case the Barber is Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) who runs the middle chair in Gunzilli's barbershop.

Ed is, for the most part, pretty darn sure that his lovely wife Doris (Francis McDormand) is doing the nasty with her employer, Mr. Nirdlinger (James Gandolfini). So when a traveling salesman comes through the shop with an offer to make a fortune in the new biz of dry cleaning that sounds just too good to refuse, Billy Bob refuses to refuse it. One blackmail note later, Nirdlinger is confiding to our hero everything but the graphic details of an affair with someone who is "not your wife". From here the surprises come fast and furious.

Characters will commit suicide, be blackmailed, murdered and/or disappeared. Some will go to jail, rightly or wrongly, affairs will be concealed and revealed. And all the while, by keeping his mouth shut, Ed just makes it worse. And we haven't even touched upon UFO sightings, either.

In their current style of filmmaking, the Coens have way too much story to offer with plot strands far too tenuous to hold everything together. The Man Who Wasn't There looks like a kitchen wall after you've tossed boiled spaghetti on it, in the old style of cooking. Some stories stick to the wall. Some fall off. But they're all there for you to pick through. We don't have problems with this; everything just barely holds together and no plot points vanish in the confusion.

But the fact of the matter is that we saw The Man Who Wasn't There just a couple of days after the attack on the World Trade Center and, by the time we were stable enough to write this stuff down, we couldn't piece the thing back together from our notes. We did mark a number down, below, at the time.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Man Who Wasn't There, he would have paid . . .


If you're a fan of the Coen Brothers previous work (we are) you aren't going to miss with this one. If you're looking for something simple and brain-challenge-free, look elsewhere.

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