THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE
Sam North reviews Joel and Ethan Coen's new 'Hitchock'
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco and
Directed By: Joel Coen - Screenplay Joel and Ethan Coen
always runs the risk of alienating someone when you make a film
about a nobody. One can either tap into the zietgist and everyone
comes because they recognise something of themselves in that character
or you miss that elemental thing that makes people love it, or him
At some point
during the film 'The Man who wasn't there', I suddenly realised that I
didn't really care. This is not to reject the brilliance of Joel and Ethan
Coen's latest film. I love their films,
nothing will probably be funnier or more stylish than their 'O
Brother Where art thou? ' No one in world cinema with the exception
of Jean-Pierre Jeunot is as inventive, or witty or has such a keen eye
for composition. No one probably loves cinema as much as these two men
and I respect them both enormously for that.. Nevertheless, even though
all the elements are in place for 'The Man who wasn't there', it's style,
an absolute sense of period and costume (1949) and it is filled with wonderful
characters and some rare amusing moments, it is not moving. The real problem
is the central character, Ed Crane the barber, played some studied relaxation
by Billy Bob Thornton. The man who never speaks, never has much to say
This year 'Amelie'
make a nobody with a sad life and little to say into a French national
hero. Right across Europe and the UK people have flocked to see this
film by Jeunot and although a minority hated it (because others loved
it) it did speak to us and filled a need we never knew we had. It too
was filled with complex characters and the heroine really didn't say
much at all, but she was proactive. She 'knew' she had to change her
Ed, in the Coen's
film really does have nothing to say, at a time in America's history
when everyone does have something to say. Ed never got a change to prove
himself in the war due to fallen arches, a huckster comes in for a haircut
and temps him with the new concept of 'Dry Cleaning'. Could this be
the future? Could
this be his future? Luckily for him his wife is having an affair with
the Nerdlinger department store boss played with verve and sensitivity
by James Gandolfini. Even ciphers can figure out a way to make something
and he becomes a blackmailer.
The snag is, Ed Crane isn't colourful, everyone around him is in colour,
(alright this is a black and white movie - we are talking metaphors
here). His boss at the barbers is his brother-in-law, who talks for
the two of them. He also givesa funny performance on a pig.
When things go wrong Ed accidentally kills the boss who has found out
about his blackmail scheme. "Beaten the crap out of the pansy to
get it' as he says. The pansy took the blackmail money from Ed to fund
his dry cleaning business.
It is typical of
Ed's life that his wife should be charged with the murder, after all
he's the man who wasn't there.
Ed lusts without
passion or intent for the young daughter of a local lawyer, believing
she has 'talent' but knowing nothing about music, this too will lead
to disappointment. Billy Bob is amazingly restrained, Frances McDormand
is excellent as always, everyone gives their best shot. You really cannot
fault this film. The
attention to period detail is admirable, the atmosphere is repressed
and sterile, the mood slow and deliberate, a la Hitchcock and there
are nice touches, such as mad Mrs Ann Nerdlinger (Katherine Borowitz)
who is a shoe-in for Barbara Stanwyk, but at the heart of this movie
Ed stands as an empty vessel. He is completely unfazed by the events
that flow around him, much like Forest Gump. Simpletons get by but never
really participate and in the end, neither do we.
As they say, never
mind the quality, feel the width.
THE MAN WHO WASN"T
THERE is playing at theatres all across the UK this November.
© Sam North
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