Man Who Wasn’t There

Movie Review by EDF

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, James Gandolfini
Director: Joel Coen

Getting their inspiration when they were shooting a barber shop scene for THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, this is the strange tale of Ed Crane. The heart of the story is really a small town crime story set in the late 1940’s and you don’t see many of those these days.

Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a quiet man who just shuffles through life doing what he does best, cutting hair. He works for Frank (Michael Badalucco), his brother-in-law, who talks non-stop and in that resect is opposite to Ed. When a last minute customer turns up just as the shop is closing, Ed tells Frank he’ll take care of the customer and will lock after he’s done. The salesman tells Ed about his attempt to raise $10,000 for a brand new idea that will take off – Dry Cleaning. He was hoping to find a businessman in town to finance his venture but will have to move on until he does. Ed tells him he’ll get the $10,000 he needs.

Ed has a plan and it is this; he suspects that his wife Doris (Frances McDormand), who works for a departmental store, is having an affair with her boss Big Dave (James Gandolfini). Ed sends an anonymous note demanding $10,000 or he will tell Dave’s wife, who holds the financial power of the two. Later at a departmental store party, Big Dave confides with Ed about his dilemma and Ed suggests that he should follow what the note says. Big Dave reckons the person bribing him was some businessman who came into his office looking for financial backing. The following night, returning from a party where Doris passes out from too much drink, Big Dave rings Ed up and asks him to drop by the store right away.

Yet again the Coen brothers pull off another movie that sits well with their other outings. Even though the story is very smart there are a couple of things with this movie that might scare off the general public. The main thing is that the movie was shot in black and white, a guarantee that it this will only have a limited release, which is a shame. There are scenes here that have been so beautifully shot, you wonder why more movies of this calibre are not made in black and white. An example is of one scene set in a bar where Ed is given some news, and as the other person walks out of the bar, smoke, which was not predominate in the background, swirls around the person as he leaves. Try shooting that scene in colour. The other thing is that while Billy Bob Thornton is convincing as Ed, there are times when his silence says a lot. Even Gandolfini, who was impressed with Thornton’s acting skills, was looking for tips. The movie’s steady pacing might also put some people off but this is in keeping to the way Ed is.

At times funny and touching, this excellent piece of storytelling brings back confidence to the cinema.

5 out of 6 stars

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