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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Billy Bob Thornton
Frances McDormand
Michael Badalucco
James Gandolfini.
Directors
Joel Coen
Ethan Coen.
Screenwriters
Joel Coen
Ethan Coen.
Running Time
116 minutes

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The Man Who Wasn't There
The Coen brothers score again with this version of James M. Cain's thriller.


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Plot
A small town in the late 1940s. Barber Ed, realising his wife Doris is having an affair, plots blackmail, but nothing goes according to plan and Doris is arrested for murder. Meanwhile, Ed is strangely interested in Birdy, a teenage pianist he believes could be a star.


Review
The Coen brothers continue to riff off the styles of great American crime writers, following their Dashiell Hammett (Miller's Crossing) and Raymond Chandler (The Big Lebowski) films, with this variation on themes by James M. Cain.

Early film versions of Cain's Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice streamlined his distinctive third acts, which seem like left-field sequels to the main stories. But here, the Cain homage carries through to The Man Who Wasn't There's strange finale, with the hero collapsing as ironies unnoticed earlier spin round to trap him.

After the popular acceptance of the Coen style in such warm-ish movies as The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, this is a chilly film, in stark black and white, as if the brothers want to get back to their core audience.

Surrounded by motormouths, Ed - played by Thornton in a somehow disturbing toupee - keeps to himself. Sometimes he's distracted by tiny details or odd crusades, but usually he's uncommitted to any of his ambitions and unresentful of the worst that fate deals him. Ed refuses to take part in the story he is narrating or make any moral judgement at all, even on people who have done him enormous wrongs.

The Coens' trademark wry dialogue is present, with a literary love for the odd, everyday turn of phrase, and the terrific cast fit in perfectly with the style. Devotees note: a spinning hubcap/flying saucer serves the visual function here that in earlier Coen films was taken by a hat, a hula-hoop, a tumbleweed and a tin of pomade.


Verdict
Slowly paced for a thriller and with a hero many will find off-putting, this is nevertheless a gripping, unusual and challenging work from the most consistently brilliant filmmakers of the last decade.


Reviewed by Kim Newman

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Man Who Wasn't There
Empire Star Rating

RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

just been dispatched by play.com, hopefully it'll arrive tomorrow, if not i'll have to watch it on the weekend. but i am very excited about this :) ... More

Posted by richCie at 22:48, 18 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

  Sorry, one big pretentious yawn...what Tarantino did with DeathProof (in homage terms) but with the dullness factored right up to the nth degree! Imo. ... More

Posted by Vitamin F at 16:55, 13 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

Brilliant film, absolutely love it.  Slowly paced for sure but that's part of it's allure in my opinion.  Full of visual flair and brilliant performances. ... More

Posted by mackey at 22:30, 11 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

his on Christmas day a couple of years back and really took to it. Definitely one of the Coens most underrated movies. Frances McDormand was great. ... More

Posted by Empitomezzo at 09:12, 11 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

A very good film and a chilling performance by Billy Bob Thornton. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by KnightofZyryab at 17:44, 10 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

this film sounds brilliant, i really must get hold of it on dvd....   perhaps i should just buy the coen brothers box set... ... More

Posted by richCie at 17:10, 10 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

I think it's pure brilliance ... More

Posted by Lydia_H at 04:54, 10 March 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Another Coen brothers masterpiece

One of the misfires from the Coens, on par with sucker Proxyminably dull. ... More

Posted by Lightfoot at 11:20, 09 March 2008 | Report This Post


Another Coen brothers masterpiece

One of the best films ever made. Great Movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 01:42, 09 March 2008 | Report This Post


Another Coen brothers masterpiece

One of the best films ever made. Great Movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 01:42, 09 March 2008 | Report This Post


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