The Man Who Wasn’t There

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Shot in glorious black and white, the Coens’ homage to crime novelist James M. Cain is a moody, absurdist, existential meta-noir set in Santa Rosa, California circa the late 1940s. Sad sack barber Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a slow-moving, barely-talking suburbanite who doesn’t seem to want much out of life. He has virtually no relationship with his hard-drinking wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), who has more fun with her loutish boss, Big Dave ( James Gandolfini). But when strange character Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito) informs Ed that he’s looking for a silent partner to finance his dream business (something he calls “dry cleaning”), Ed sees a possible way out of his doldrums. Soon our hapless hero is suckered into a complicated scheme that finds him secretly blackmailing Big Dave about his affair with Doris, a plan he hopes will make him rich and get him some revenge at the same time. Of course, these things never go according to plan, and the Coens’ delight in following down the dominos as they fall, one by one, into an existential abyss of murder, madness and really bad moods. Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, The Man Who Wasn’t There puts a twisted spin on such Hollywood classics as Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, and features a terrific cast that also includes Richard Jenkins, Tony Shalhoub and Scarlett Johansson. (Dir. by Joel Coen, 2001, USA, 116 mins., Rated R) 35mm