Movie Reviews
3:17 pm
Tue December 4, 2001

The Man Who Wasn't There

The Coen brothers are back with their usual barnyard of eccentric characters.

I haven't quite figured out why I love film noir, but the Coen Brothers make me remember some of the reasons. Cinematographer Roger Deakin drenches the shots in vivid black and white, reminding me of noir's diet of good and evil, like a virginal young musician who suprisingly goes down on Billy Bob Thornton's Ed to reward him for trying to help her, thus precipitating an almost deadly accident because of the reward.

And then the voiceover, so filled with wisdom and dread as Billy Bob navigates between his private crime and its waves of consequences. Or simply the carpet of deceit and corruption that lies under almost every act, even of a simple barber.

But for me noir and memory collide in that barbershop, the porcelain pure 40's world, lovingly recreated here with the requisite hierarchy of first and second chairs, paralleling the classical music motif of the film. The hush of Ed's crime as he trims or buzzes the blonde-haired, blue-eyed innocents, so much like me in my grandfather's Rochester shop, reminds me that underneath Grandpa's bright checkered floor an elaborate numbers racket flourished without a sound. The Coens recreate atmosphere with enviable success.

How to justify their outrageous alien visitation motif I don't know other than Ed keeps thinking he doesn?t belong in this world, and he does ruminate on the mystical property of hair growth. He's an outrider.

The usual Coen barnyard of eccentric characters is here, such as Ed's double-crossing dry cleaning partner; they all could have easily arrived by flying saucer.

Tony Shalhoub as Doris's lawyer is an over-the-top, overachieving combination of Johnny Cochran and F. Lee Bailey, but he is mesmerizing when he blathers about new strategies of knowing like circumstantial evidence and its sister, reasonable doubt. In one of Shaloub's scenes, shafts of light beam from the ceiling in a loving homage to "Citizen Kane." Classy Coens in the right company.

Official Site: "The Man Who Wasn't There"