Monday, June 14, 2010
Movie Review Monday~'The Man Who Wasnt There' (2001)
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Shalhoub, and Frances McDormand
Directed By: Joel Cohen
As fate would have it, I didn't see this film until last night. I'm not sure why I forgot about it. True, it wasn't nearly so well received as some of the Cohen brothers' other projects and the box office returns were disappointing. However, 'O Brother Where Art Thou' is one of my all time favorites, so those facts should have had little bearing on my seeing it personally.
Many modern film makers have attempted to capture the essence of the 1940's 'Film Noir' style. Most have failed. Their idea of 'Film Noir' has been narrow-mindedly conveyed through monotone narration and mediocre 40's styling...and more often than not, it comes off as kitschy and insincere. I am not a huge fan of Film Noir myself, though there are definitely a few stand-outs of the genre. Most of the time, I am puzzled by the lack of 'heart' in those movies, in spite of the gorgeous cinematography present in many of them. A perfect example ( and I know I'm going to get an earful for this) is the movie 'Laura' which is beautifully filmed but which contains some of the most lackluster movie characters I've ever seen achieve 'legendary' status. Gene Tierney is flawlessly beautiful in the film, but bores the tar out of me. Though many Film Noir classics contain intriguing plots and plenty of suspense, there is a emptiness about most of them that fails to reach me. That said,some foreign films that would be included in this genre are simply brilliant. 'Diabolique' and 'Rafifi' come to mind. In the English category, I am equally impressed by 'The Third Man'. The reason I tell you all of this is to help you understand where I'm coming from with this review.
'The Man Who Wasnt There' is extraordinarily successful in its ability to capture the feel of traditional Film Noir. Billy Bob Thornton portrays Ed Crane, a mild tempered barber with very little to say. His narration immediately calls to mind the deadpan narration of William Holden in 'Sunset Boulevard' or other such classics. Right from the start, the film captures you with its authentic post-wartime look and exquisite cinematography. Due to the narration, the story is very easy to follow and the characters are all engaging. However, the interesting thing is that they are never TOO engaging. We never truly feel a connection with any of the players, and I feel that this ads even more credibility to the Cohen Brother's homage to Film Noir. It's a twisted tale of murder and deceit; one that never pretends to be anything deeper or more profound that what is presented on the surface.
The acting is praiseworthy and what we've come to expect from the veterans involved. Gandolfini is our resident meat head, Thornton our cool protagonist, McDormand the unfaithful femme fatale. Scarlet Johansson is memorable as the sympathetic innocent, and Michael Badalucco hams it up yet again as the talkative antithesis of his brother Ed. However,in my opinion, the best performance by a mile belonged to Tony Shalhoub, who turns his confidently charming 'lawyer stereotype' into something fresh and exciting. He steals every scene he graces.
On the whole, I obviously really appreciated this film. More as an artistic achievement than as an enjoyable movie-going experience. As it should, the film lacks 'heart' and stays true to the methodical chilliness of the genre. But it is extremely impressive and kept me interested throughout.
My rating: 7/10
Style Factor: The masculine styling in this movie is some of the best I've seen for a late 40's-early 50's period film. Since it spends alot of time in the barber shop, there are alot of great close up shots of haircuts and authentic male styling. Suits, shoes, and briefcases are also well planned; the designers never lost sight of the fact that film was to be shot in glorious black and white. Frances McDormand is one of two main characters representing the female sex and her style is definitely the most glamorous. Her hair is traditionally styled in bombshell waves throughout the film,while Johansson represents the teen styling of the day-sporting a simple 'baby' cut. In general, the film is a great represenation of authentic period styling and design.
Style Score: 9/10