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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)



Reviews and Comments

Many of the Coen brothers' films have harkened back to the film noir of the 1940s, but none more so than The Man Who Wasn't There, filmed in glorious black and white. I did not love this film, but I adored many individual aspects of it. I love the dialogue. I love the cinematography. I love the layered irony of practically every plot development. I love how the Coens consistently manage to make ordinary sorts of things very funny (I lost it when a car flew off the road). I loved the love the Coens have for this genre, which is very apparent. I loved the characters, main and supporting. Billy Bob Thornton's metabolically challenged title character paradoxically brings the film alive. Of particular note among the supporting cast is a defense attorney, played by Tony Shalhoub, who gets a second chance at delivering a personally prized speech on the meaning of life in a moment of glory.

Somewhere around the midpoint, however, the film sort of loses its way. The steam it has built up hits from friction. A plot thread about Roswell has no place that I can see, for example. A more substantial plot thread, involving a young piano player, is more relevant but is given a disproportionate amount of attention for what it yields, the result being a distraction of the film's focus.

On the whole, however, I like and admire The Man Who Wasn't There very much. The Coens have a way of telling stories in a uniquely compelling way, delivering original characters and beautifully styled dialogue as no one else can. The Man Who Wasn't There is shining evidence of their talent.