Thursday, April 12, 2012

Day 358 - The Man Who Wasn't There

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) directed by The Coen Brothers

The Man Who Wasn't There is the Coen Brothers ode to film noir, a genre I have grown to know and love over the past year. It gets most of the details right from the stark black and white cinematography to the lurid plot details where people are blackmailed, backstabbed, murdered, wrongly accused yet rightly caught. Yet if there is one thing that it doesn't do right is pace the film accordingly to its potential. What I mean is that on paper the details look and feel like this could be a thriller on par with Double Indemnity but instead it opts to be a moody and deliberate character piece, which isn't actually a bad thing, but that isn't really what film noirs are. But I understand why this film is paced so slowly. It is because its central character, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a slow and deliberate character. He narrates the film with a detached manner as if an impartial observer to his own story. He has lived a life with little meaning or passion. His wife is cheating on him but he simply shrugs it off as if that is just how things are.

The story has a familiar film noir plot. A businessman comes into town with the idea of a new invention called dry cleaning. He needs $10,000 to start up. Ed, tired of his ordinary meaningless life, knows where to get $10,000, anonymously blackmail his friend who is having an affair with his wife. It sets into motion a story straight out of the golden days of film noir complete with ironic twists of fates and unexpected deaths and developments. It seems intriguing but as I stated before it isn't quite as compelling as it sounds thanks to its meticulous pacing and focus on the details of the genre rather than the plot itself. The Coen Brothers carefully construct a classical film noir but uncharacteristically forget to get the story right. It's easy to read that and think that this is a slow and boring movie but it really isn't thanks to the Coen Brothers's excellent craftsmanship. The film looks superb and manages to keep things interesting even when the story isn't always on point. Plus the film is well acted and the slow and deep focus on Ed's character pays off as we get such a great sense of a character so lost and trapped in life. This may be categorized as film noir but it is perhaps an even better character study.

Grade: B-

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