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The Man WHo Wasn't There - Review

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Buy the DVD The Man Who Wasn't There

(Dir: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen)

Reviewed by: Ben Sutton - Conflict Scripts

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There are two clichés which immediately come to mind while watching this film. "You've made your bed, now lie in it" and "You're digging yourself a deeper hole."

But these simply don't do this film justice.

The story follows a droll barber named Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) as he blackmails his wife Doris' (Frances McDormand) boss ‘Big Dave' (James Gandolfini.) The reason? He wants $10000.00 to invest in dry cleaning. After finding out his wife is having an affair with her boss it seems simple. Blackmail him for the money, invest it and make more money.

The problem comes when paying the blackmail leaves Big Dave broke – meaning he must find out who blackmailed him and take revenge.

Now, I'm not going to say any more about the story as it will spoil it should you ever decide to watch the film. I will talk about the acting, setting, and cinematography though.

First off, the entire film is black and white. The main purpose of this I believe is to make the 1950's setting seem more real. And boy does it. It is so refreshing to see a modern film being shot in a way that harps back to the ‘old days'. The Coen's certainly know what they are doing!

Another thing that works surprisingly well is the score. Usually it is easy to miss the music playing in a film, if it is always there we seem not to notice it. In this case though there is one piece of music that always seems to be in the background, Beethoven's Midnight Sonata. You'd think that having the same piece of music playing over and over would grate – but here it fits in perfectly. This is due to it being integral to the story and a beautiful piece of classical music.

The acting is superb. Billy Bob Thornton shines, even though his character is no ‘shiner'. Many actors could have made his quiet, reserved character simply boring, but Billy Bob carries it off with aplomb. His almost continual narration is perfectly written, and never out of place or over the top.

Frances McDormand (Fargo) plays his wife – and this is the only role that lets the film down. She seems to be playing Marge Gunderson again. That role fitted Fargo perfectly, but here doesn't seem quite right.

All the other actors that take part in this wonderful ‘play' do their job well, with James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Jon Polito (The Big Lebowski), Scarlet Johansson (Lost in Translation) and Tony Shalhoub (Men in Black) all taking part.

Overall this is a wonderful ‘comedy crime drama'. It won't have you sitting on the edge of your seat by any means, but it will have you intrigued, laughing and upset all at the same time.

And here's the ultimate accolade – I'll be purchasing the DVD!!

Ben Sutton

Copyright © Conflict Scripts 2004

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