Barbers are definitely some cruel people.
Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) goes about the business of cutting hair with a stoic resignation. He’s stuck in a rut and has no clue how to get out. When Crane discovers that his bookkeeper wife, Doris (Frances McDormand) is having an affair with Big Dave (James Gandolfini), her boss at Nirdlinger’s department store, the gears of change start turning.
Take it from the Coen Bros. to take us back to a time that seems so simple, so clean, and so nice, and make it seem like everything other than that.
This is one of those flicks that show the Coens basically giving a little tribute out to the good old days of black and white cinema noir, and it actually feels like one that would have been made back in those days too. The cinematography is beautiful and I think it was used for a great mood because I couldn’t have expected this being filmed in anything else other than black and white. The score is also great not because it sounds cool but because it’s actually made up of a bunch of actual pieces of orchestra music that adds a lot to the dark mood as well. Technically, the Coens do a fine job here and made me feel like I needed to blow some smoke while watching it just to get in the mood.
The story itself is a pretty slow one at first, but after awhile it actually builds up to a story that you sort of get involved with. Everything here is pretty straight-forward but I couldn’t help myself wondering just what was going to happen next and what road this film was actually going to try and go down. I can’t say that this is a suspenseful thrill ride by any means, but it’s still a flick that has a story that keeps on moving on and on as it goes. It will also probably make you feel a lot better than your life because things go from bad to worse for this dude Frank, and it pretty much made me thankful for everything I have in my life. Never thought the Coens would be able to make me think that but hey, they can work wonders when they want to.
The problem with this film isn’t that it’s not good, because it’s a very good flick, it’s just that it’s very hard to actually care what happens. Yes, I did like this story and where it went with its direction but when it came to actually having some sympathy for these characters, there just wasn’t anything touching me at all. Ed, our central character, is a pretty numbed-out dude that doesn’t talk much and doesn’t really have many emotions in this flick and it’s hard to connect with somebody like that considering it seems like he doesn’t really care all that much either about what’s going on with his life and where it’s taking him. His wife, Doris, also seems like she doesn’t have much going for her life other than running around on her husband which makes it even harder for us to care and even Big Dave has dreams but even those are pretty boring and mediocre. Basically, it’s a film that you can try your hardest to like and connect to one of these characters, but in the end, it’s just going to come off as empty.
As for people that are looking for a fun time with a Coen Bros. flick because they saw ones such as ‘True Grit’ and ‘No Country For Old Men’, well then you have to look a little further than this one. The film is very slow and even though I do feel like they needed the time to actually develop these characters as well as the story, there were other times where I felt like certain scenes just ran on a little too long with nothing else but just silence. Also, the 116 minute time-limit may also add insult to injury for that as well but then again, this isn’t the Coens having a fun time.
Billy Bob Thornton is his usual self in this flick as Ed Crane (great name), which is what adds a lot to this character and film as well. Billy Bob isn’t exciting, he barely shows any emotions, he smokes in about every single frame of this flick, and he’s a character that just seems like he doesn’t care at all about anything but it’s also what makes this character work. It may have been hard to feel anything for him but I was still able to like Billy Bob playing Crane because even though we may always seem him play the same character in every flick no matter what, it still never really gets old and still seems fresh especially when he’s playing a barber.
Frances McDormand is also good as his wife, Doris, and she adds a lot of sass and coolness to a character that is pretty unlikable, only because she is committing some infidelities; James Gandolfini is pretty much here as Big Dave and not doing much else other than just being there; and Tony Shalhoub practically comes out of nowhere and steals this flick by the end of it and made me laugh a hell of a lot more than I actually expected in a dark and sad film like this.
Consensus: The Man Who Wasn’t There shows the Coens in a good-form with fine performances from the cast, nice touches for its score and camera-work, and a nice story that builds up more and more, but also has characters that you may find it harder to connect with which makes it even harder for you to care what really goes down in the first place.