F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 10, 2011)

10 06 2011

With “True Grit” now available to watch at home, I figure the celebration shouldn’t be just of the Western genre but of the Coen Brothers in general!  I haven’t made it through their entire filmography – don’t shoot me when I say I haven’t seen “Blood Simple” or “Barton Fink” – but I have found a gem among their movies that deserves more attention and laud.  I present “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” a quintessential example of the film noir style but still a flawless example of the Coens’ own unique filmmaking conventions.  (And for the record, I think it’s much more deserving of a Best Picture nomination than “A Serious Man.”)

Billy Bob Thornton, complete with his low and thick Southern drawl, plays the solemn and stern Californian barber Ed Crane, completely unremarkable in just about every way.  He feels emasculated and numb to the world around him, somewhat because he couldn’t serve in World War II due to his flat feet and also because he senses his wife Doris (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with her boss Dave (James Gandolfini).  Yet the game changes a shady salesman shows up with a proposition that could make Ed a very rich man.  What ensues is a crazy, unforeseeable chain of events that pushes Ed to the brink … and he still manages to stay stolid.

“The Man Who Wasn’t There” could easily be labeled a textbook for the conventions of neo-noir, just as “Double Indemnity” could be the textbook for the original school of noir filmmaking.  The lighting and the sets really shift our moods to darkness, and the crisp, clean cinematography of Roger Deakins makes the film’s look simply irresistible.  But any fan of the Coens know that they can’t just stick to outlines or formulas, usually blending in elements of dark comedy and nihilism with any genre they tackle.  Their take on film noir is just sublime, and any fan of the directors will certainly love watching a movie that feels straight out of the 1950s but has their signature spin.

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2 responses

24 06 2011
Steven Flores

I think this is one of the Coen Brothers’ most overlooked films of their career. It’s such a gorgeous film that is wonderfully carried by Billy Bob Thornton’s narration. I also enjoyed Scarlett Johansson’s performance (when she was good back then) as Birdy who just seduces Thornton by just playing Beethoven.

24 06 2011
Marshall

Forgot to mention Scarlett … but yes, definitely one of her finest performances. I think the term of endearment “sexy” definitely went to her head, and as far as I’m concerned, she does a whole lot more modeling than acting on screen nowadays.

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