Coen brothers‘ “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is an underrated gem from the directors. It shots in a black-and-white aesthetic format and magnificently beautiful lighting. It reminds me of all Orson Welles works especially “Citizen Kane”. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, the man whose nothing, just ordinary people like all people on the street. It’s about what you always think about Coen brothers. A crime-gone-wrong twisted into a black and white reality, with the feel of ingenuity. Coen brothers are one of my favorite directors. What I love about them isn’t because of their substance or lack of style in their films. But, such an ordinary story or plot can make you still want to follow. It’s easy to enter the mind of the movie directly.
A small-town barber who narrates the story as a reliable narrator never admits that he is a barber. More precisely, he stumbled between his job, his wife’s job and his wife. Ed Crane is a man who just seems like an innocent guy at first. But, he stumbled into one of the worse things he could do in his life. It’s not about what Ed Crane was or else. It’s because we were looking at the facts with no meaning at all. He is just a character with no motivation at all, in a unique context too.
He always holds the second seat in his barbershop beside his friendly yet talkative brother in law, Frank (Michael Badalucco). Frank is different from Crane. Frank spends most of his time, besides working on haircuts, by walking around the city of Santa Rosa, California. He is always smoking but I also can’t say that Ed Crane smoking as well. All characters in this film smoke, whether the side character or even Frances McDormand as well as Doris. Ed Crane is just a vulnerable guy, stunned with something he found the most, Doris’ store.
Doris works for Big Dave (James Gandolfini). However, there is something Crane never thinks of. He just doubted his wife’s relationship with his boss when they were together. This is a story with no meaning, no facts, no purpose. But, what comes to a film like this exists in the first place? “The Man Who Wasn’t There” might be a great movie. But, it’s one of my least favorite movies from the Coen Brothers. There is also another touch from the directors whether they want to convey or what they always think. All of the characters in this movie view each other with their identity and work. Like one for the example Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub) and Crane. Schneider considers Crane is just a barber and knows nothing while he is an attorney.
In most film noir, especially classic films, there is an isolation of the protagonist. There is always bad luck for them also. They can turn anything into irony or even fate. Film noir also always tells about an anti-hero, from most classic noir films. Men are the main benchmarks of most film noir as well. On the other hand, women are just sexual objects and plot devices like money, wealth, or anything. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” isn’t a film noir even it seems like this is a noir movie. Maybe, it’s hard to say how. There is a sequence where the protagonist tells how they killed a man but we don’t know who he was. It’s about how the protagonist looks for the man who works to him. But, he wasn’t there at all. There is no proof or anything.
Roger Deakins is the cinematographer of “The Man Who Wasn’t There”. The set in this movie shots beautifully and so gorgeous from each of the frames. The surrealistic world lies in how the movie still reminds you that you still watch film noir. I mean, it was. But, how come an alien could exist around the anti-hero, the protagonist, or whatever? As in, Coens’ universe is different than any world in all of the movies. The lighting as well, one of my favorite things why I love this movie. It’s mesmerizing to see a movie about a crime-gone-wrong, a film noir movie, and a surrealist movie in one packed. This movie is definitely “a piece of art”.
With a 90-minute story, it feels like this movie filled with emptiness. You watch this movie and keep thinking about what, why, and how. “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is a stunning movie, an intense movie with so much substance and style. What a beautiful movie especially if this was a noir movie, I don’t know what else. A 90-minute film feels like an hour. The frame may easily distract you. Yet, you would know that this is another gem by Coen brothers as well.
4 out of 5 stars.