*** Official "THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE" Review and Discussion Thread

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jason Seaver, Oct 25, 2001.

  1. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    In Ed Crane, the Brothers Coen have given Billy Bob Thornton his most forgettable character.
    Fortunately, that's a good thing. Ed is the title character/narrator, and though he's present in just about every scene of the movie, he doesn't say much, doesn't seem to have much of an opinion on anything, and doesn't seem to have much in the way of ambition. People don't remember his name. He's living his life on autopilot, not really doing or feeling anything, just moving from day to day as a small-town barber in 1949 Santa Rosa, California.
    That is, until a business opportunity presents itself, and Ed matter-of-factly goes about raising $10,000 to buy in, and sets off a chain of events containing equal amounts tragedy and absurdity.
    First - this is a very funny movie. Much humor is mined from how Ed sort of stands detached from the other characters, impassively watching them with an unchanging, unblinking expression as a cigerette hangs limply from his mouth. Things that would cause other people to panic simply don't get a rise out of him.
    A certain amount of energy is provided by Tony Shaloub's character, Freddy Riedenschneider. (You have to love those great Coen names) A high-priced attorney, Freddy considers who committed the crimes to be absolutely irrelevent to his defense. He has great screwball-comedy dialog, including a gem of a speech on how the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle relates to a murder trial.
    The movie is also beautiful to look at. Dennis Gassner and Chris Gorak should really be noted for their Production Design and Art Direction, respectively; and if Roger Deakins doesn't win an Oscar for his magnificent black-and-white cinematography... Well, heads will roll. Everything fits together, with lots of stark, bare sets and shadows for Ed to melt into. The filmmakers aren't going for period realism here; instead, they acheive a sort of surrealism, a disconnect from the real world, although its symbols are familiar from 60 years of film noir.
    Great supporting performances about. I've already mentioned Tony Shaloub, who is a real treasure, but there are good turns from Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Jon Polito, and Michael Badalucco. Scarlett Johansson has been in a couple other pretty good movies this year (Ghost World and An American Rhapsondy), but this is probably her best role of the three, as a teenager whose piano playing catches Ed's ear and actually makes him feel something.
    If there's a message to The Man Who Wasn't There, it's that no-one is in control of their own lives (the Spoiler:flying saucer will be too much for some audience members, but it symbolizes this perfectly); you can either just ride passively along like Ed or find joy in it like his brother-in-law Frank (Baladucco).
    The Man Who Wasn't There is one of the best movies of the year; don't miss it.
     
  2. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    It's my favorite, but understand that I'm still enthused from seeing it in a crowded theater last night and that I've missed some (I don't know why I haven't seen Raising Arizona, I just haven't!). Still, they fire on all cylinders here - it's incredibly funny; it has a nice, twisty noir plot; and it holds up to analysis, with the Coens finally seeming to have something to say. They've always been great storytellers, and clever, but this is the first time one of their movies made much of an emotional impression on me.
    As to whether it's better than With A Friend Like Harry... Hmmmmmm. I like Harry, the movie, a lot, but Harry the character was problematic for me. I've got The Man Who Wasn't There above With A Friend Like Harry... on my entry in the 2001 Film List thread, though - in fact, the only two movies that are higher are A.I. and Acts Of Worship, and I don't envision that changing unless Amelie really blows me away. It's one of only four or five movies (including the short "Speak") that I've given four stars to this year, and I basically see it as being as near perfect as you can get.
     
  3. AaronJB

    AaronJB Second Unit

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    I watched the latest Coen Brothers film, "The Man Who Wasn't There" this morning and was supremely amazed by the black and white cinematography from Roger Deakins. I think the highest compliment that I can give it is that I think I could have even enjoyed this movie without sound - just studying the rich imagery and lighting.
    I really can't think of many cinematographers currently working who I'd consider better than Deakins. I find his work simply incredible on each film he works on. If he doesn't win the Oscar for best cinematography, I'd be stunned.
     
  4. Mark Cappelletty

    Mark Cappelletty Cinematographer

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    Thanks, Agee!
    Saw it on Friday and liked it-- though as Roger Ebert pointed out, it does feel like a 90 minute movie stretched to two hours. There are some great moments, but also a bit of filler, which is something I rarely find in Coen Bros. film. This and O Brother are a tasty two-fer, but they lack the sheer power and vision of the 1990-1991 one-two punch of Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink.
    Has anyone had problems with the prints? They misframed it at the Cineplex Odeon Broadway theater in Santa Monica for the first show last Friday; I went to the 2 PM show and they warned us about a "bad print." But when we went in to watch the movie, it looked fine-- I'm curious if the clueless manager chalked up misframed projection or the use of the wrong aperture plate to a "bad print."
     
  5. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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  6. Brook K

    Brook K Lead Actor

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    Saw it on Sunday, and it's up there on my top 10 list for the year. The Coen's are my favorite current American filmmakers so I'm partial to anything they do.
    The Man Who Wasn't There: Roger Deakins was robbed last year of a
    cineamatography Oscar for O Brother, hopefully the Academy will make up for
    it this year. In the 30's and 40's viewers could see films in "glorious
    Technicolor", in 2001 we get to see a film in glorious black & white. This
    is a beautiful looking film, but like all noirs, mystery, deception, and
    even death lurks in the shadows. There is one scene in particular, in a
    prison interrogation room with light streaming through the bars of a tall
    window. Tony Shaloub's lawyer character is bathed in light as he begins a
    monologue about reasonable doubt, while Billy Bob sits in the shadows at a
    table. The light filtering through almost seems to erase Billy Bob, he is a
    ghost, truly A Man Who Wasn't There. The result is breathtaking.
    The story is noir tradition. Blackmail, deceit, broken vows, failed dreams,
    a spiral of lies and misunderstanding that builds and builds. Billy Bob
    Thornton's barber is a taciturn sort, so quite as to become almost an
    observer of his own life. An offer for a new business venture appears, dry
    cleaning, and a chord is struck, it offers the chance at something more, his
    decision to take that chance effect everyone around him, his wife (Frances
    McDormand), her boss (James Gandolfini), his boss (Michael Badalucco). Of
    course the Coen Bros. never tell the story straight, so comedy, quirks, and
    flights of fantasy will weave in and out of this hard-bitten world, both
    adding enormously to the quality and complexity of the film, but also
    resulting in the only criticism I have right now for it. In seeking to
    resolve a subplot, they bring a halt to the forward momentum of the story
    just as it nears the end and they also choose that moment to depict a sex
    act that feels completely out of place in the 40's movie world they have
    created. Still, I thought it was very, very good, and another worthy
    addition to the Coens' oeuvre. I'm sure, like almost all their work, it will
    take multiple viewings to fully sink in. Recommended
    ------------------
    "It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen"
    S&S Challenge: 72 ...24
    DVD BEAVER

    My DVD Collection
     
  7. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    This thread is now the Official Review Thread for "The Man Who Wasn't There.". Please post all HTF member reviews in this thread. Any other comments, links to other reviews, or discussion items will be deleted from this thread without warning! If you need to discuss those type of issues, I have designated an Official Discussion Thread which can be found at this link .
    Again, without warning, I will delete all posts that are not a HTF member review!
    Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
    Crawdaddy

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    Peter Staddon: "I didn't say you can put 'Monkeybone' back!"
    [Edited last by Robert Crawford on November 07, 2001 at 12:32 PM]
     
  8. Alex Spindler

    Alex Spindler Producer

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    I have to echo everyone's sentiments about the cinematography. It was so much more than just taking the color out of the film. They arranged so much in the lighting, set design, actor placement, and pacing, that color would have been a distraction and unnecessary.
    I was particularly impressed at how so many actors whom I am familiar with seemed to disappear in place of these characters. Billy Bob was like a new person, with his mildly pained expressions at social functions and his permanent cigarette (I wouldn't recommend that those committed to the "quit smoking thread" see this movie anytime soon). Tony Shaloub similarly was submerged beneath the character. And their choice for Birdie had me immediately thinking back to Patricia Hitchcock from Strangers on a Train and fit right in with the settings.
    Don't go in expecting the type of manic hilarity of Raising Arizona, or the wordplay of O Brother. This is all about mood, consequences, and the impact of one anonymous life.
    I'm thinking [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG], but I'm wracking my brain as to how to improve it to gain the extra [​IMG]. Perhaps tightening up some of the sections to make it a bit more focused? However, I wasn't looking at the time, but was instead relieved to know that there was more to tell. It's really nice to have that kind of feeling, like finding out a great television episode is a two-parter.
    I am consistently surprised that the Coens can repeatedly try different genres, paces, subjects, styles, and periods and always come out with excellent products. That basis alone makes them the most successful filmmakers in modern times (their only competition is Hitchcock in my book). Some may have surpassed them in individual efforts, but their catalog is so varied and impressive that they have few peers. (It should be obvious that I'm a fan)
     
  9. JohnS

    JohnS Producer

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    I saw this this morning(11:40am) and was REALLY surprised the theater was half full.
    Anyway, I really liked this film alot.
    I loved the look of the film and wasn't bothered at all by the passing of the film(like some have mentioned)
    I thought Billy Bob and Scarlet Johansson gave fine performances.
    After Ghost World, I really liked Scarlet, now I even like her more after seeing this movie.
    I thought this was a great film noir movie, that had 'little' flaws.
    RATING=A- #9 so far on my TOP 10 LIST
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  10. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    I was sort of tired when I saw this film, which may have an effect on my reaction to it. I probably would need to see this again for a more comprehensive analysis.

    Having said that, here are some initial impressions. I wasn’t at all impressed with this film like most of you here. It appears to be more about style than anything else. I saw a lot of posturing from the Coen brothers. It is as if they were screaming, “Hey, we are making a black and white film. Look at all these images we can conjure with this type of photography“.

    The cinematography was no doubt spectacular but not much happens with the storyline, which seems to drag and have taken a step back and of secondary importance behind the film’s very impressive and technical photography. It appears that meticulous care went into planning how each shot and each scene is going to look with very little attention given towards the film’s main story. I wasn’t able to identify with Billy Bob Thornton’s character or any other character in this film.

    But like I said, maybe it will get better with a fresh new look of the film. By the way, I did love O’ Brother and enjoyed Fargo, Blood Simple and Raising Arizona.

    ~Edwin
     
  11. Rob Willey

    Rob Willey Screenwriter

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    I saw this last night and was entertained up-to-a-point. By Coen Bros. standards, this one falls a little short. By all other filmmakers standards, this one is really good.

    The story is slow and meandering, but it's a story about a guy who is the epitome of those qualities, so the pace seemed appropriate to me.

    When I realized the Coens weren't going for the humor of O Brother, for example, I was a little disappointed to see their attempts to interject it (the cops). As Jason mentioned, the sex act was so anachronistic to the rest of the film, it really seemed to clank. Hopefully, they didn't put it in because it was the only way they could think of to crash the car.


    I wholeheartedly agree that Roger Deakins' genius here should finally win him that little gold statuette. I went in expecting black and white (shot on color stock), but there is an extremely muted color palette at work in many of the scenes. Great work!

    Recommended.

    Rob
     
  12. Todd Terwilliger

    Todd Terwilliger Screenwriter

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    I just saw this one last night and I enjoyed it very much. Am I the only one who sees a very strong existential theme to this film? It seems to parallel Albert Camus' The Stranger (L'Etranger) on several levels. Both protagonists are extremely detached and both are convicted as much because of this detachment (Crane as the mind-controlling Svengali) as because of their guilt.
     
  13. Bob McLaughlin

    Bob McLaughlin Screenwriter

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    While I wasn't exactly disappointed in the movie, I just felt a little unsatisfied. I think they covered this territory already in the noir of "Blood Simple" and the pacing and quietness of "Barton Fink". I wonder if they are running out of ideas, or just enjoy making this type of film. Regardless of the Cohens' story choices, the movie kept my interest and looked great.

    Did anyone else think Billy Bob Thornton was channeling the ghost of Humphrey Bogart?
     
  14. steve jaros

    steve jaros Second Unit

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    Got to give the Coen brothers credit for one thing: They came up with a wardrobe and color scheme that actually made Frances McDormand look kind of sexy.

    Didn't think that was possible...
     
  15. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Now that this overlooked gem is appearing on DVD, I'm bringing this thread to the top and retitling it as a "Review and Discussion Thread". The original discussion thread generated so little discussion that it appears to have scrolled off. [​IMG]
    M.
     
  16. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    That would make it "The discussion thread that wasn't there." [​IMG]
     
  17. Travis D

    Travis D Second Unit

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    Alright, I just finished watching the DVD.

    Wow! I loved it. I thought it started off a tad slow, but once it took of there was no stopping it. The irony and dark comedy present are just a hoot. (Did I just say "hoot"? Damn.)

    I would call this a serious version of a comedic Coen Bros film. That means that while it has a hard-edged overcast, the Coen touch is still present and accounted for. Characters are wacky, but in a... different way. God that is such a bad explaination. Just see the film already.

    I also am very sorry I missed this in theaters because the Cinematography is. just. Gorgeous! This is such a beautiful film to look at, you just can't turn away for a second. Did I say see the film yet?
     
  18. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    I just saw this and it's taking a little while for it to set in, I'll post a full review in a couple of days but here's my initial thoughts.

    Every Coen Bros. film has something I like to call 'a little bit of the loopy' whether it's a mystical grungy biker/bouncer, Tim Robbins defying gravity because a clock was stopped, a cow... on top of a cotton shed, you get the picture (ha!), and there are always several little toungue in cheek little bits of loopy in every movie I've seen of theirs. "The Man who Wasn't there" has those elements as well, and I think the sexual encounter, the flying saucer, or the bad-news cops fit perfectly into the film. They are always totally unexpected, but have a sort of delicious twist to them that makes them totally appropriate. Every Coen Bros. character is a 'blob of something different' not the regular passé stereotypes, but archetypical cahracters with a biting edge and throguh uniqueness, all presented to the audience with the most ubiquitous frankness to put Ed Crane to shame.

    Great film, beautiful photography, will probably watch it again sometime soon.

    Adam
     
  19. Patrick Larkin

    Patrick Larkin Screenwriter

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    Beautiful looking movie. Need a second viewing to work out some things, such as:



    After Crane and Birdy smash the car, we go into what I suppose is a dream sequence. In it, Crane is sitting on the porch smoking and is approached by the macadem salesman. Doris comes home and tells him to hit the road. Then they sit on the couch in silence and Crane says "Doris" and she says something back. then Crane wakes up in the hospital.

    what was the point of that scene? then....

    Crane wakes up in Death Row and his cell is open. He walks outside and sees the Flying Saucer.

    Again, is there a plot point there or just a strange Coen twist?
     
  20. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    I have watched The Man Who Wasn't There three times now. It is probably tied for my favorite of 2001. OK, I am a Coen fan. I thought it was probably the most poetic and mature film they have done to date, though Miller's Crossing is still, and probably always will be my favorite. Why it doesn't get more appreciation is not terribly surprising to me, but is disappointing. I can't genuinely express how good I think this film is. Is it slow? YES, in the same way Persona is slow. Why is that accepted from some directors and not from others. If David Lynch did this film, or if Kubrick had done it, critics and viewers would be knocking themselves out to rave about it.

    The photography is outstanding. It actually annoys me to hear it referred to as "gimmicky" which seems to be what some are implying. Didn't Deakins actually end up winning an Oscar this year? Just for the wrong film.
     

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