Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
I’ve only seen this once and to properly review a movie like this I think you have to see it a few times. However, some impressions of The Man Who Wasn’t There …
As usual with the Joel and Ethan Coen, it’s stylistically brilliant.
A film noir (partly homage but also partly parody, in an odd sense), it’s shot in black and white and frankly couldn’t have been done any other way. (Well, I suppose it could have been colour but it would have sucked.)
I hate reviews that are 90% synopsis, so let’s leave it at this: a man who is so internalized and withdrawn he seems to be barely alive, finds himself caught up in adultery, murder and other disagreeable matters.
For me, the key to the film is a scene where the lawyer (Tony Shalhoub) hired by Billy Bob Thornton’s character to defend his wife (Frances McDormand), speaks to the husband and wife about what their defence will be. He refers to the idea of how the looker affects the thing being looked upon, about how the longer you look at something the less clear it becomes.
In fact, later in the film, he obfuscates for the court by saying something to the effect that they shouldn’t look at the event (the crime) but at its meaning.
Then he adds that it has no meaning. This is sort of what the film is about. Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Ed Crane, seems the most forgettable person ever, the least involved ever, a totally unremarkable man. Yet as we watch, though he remains unremarkable, all sorts of events (like murder) occur and he’s dragged into a morass of consequences and misreadings. And I suppose you could say, we should look at what it all means. But then we’re left with the question, does it mean anything at all?
It’s very weird. It’s also beyond my powers to articulate well. Hopefully it will become more clear for me when I watch it again.
As mentioned, the film is stylistically wonderful. Style affects the pace, as well, in that it is narrated by the Ed Crane character and the character, being so slow and so blasé, dictates the pace.