The Man Who Wasn’t
Picture: B+ Sound: B Extras: A Film: A-
down, The Man Who Wasn’t There is The Coen Brothers’ best film thus
far. Although they have churned out
many memorable films in the past such as Blood Simple, Fargo, and
Miller’s Crossing, this is where all of their talent and capabilities
comes together in a very tight, neat package that is extraordinary on so many
levels. It was refreshing to see the
brothers take a step back and do a drama after working on so many odd ball
comedies in the past like Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big
Lebowski, and the very disappointing O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
Perhaps what makes a film
like this so sincere is the language and the presentation of that. Although the film was shot in 35mm color, it
was then digitally processed by Kodak’s Cinesite labs into a type of black and
white that is not the classical silver type, but one that tries to emulate that
look. This was done by the film’s great
cameraman Roger Deakins, (A.S.C., B.S.C.), who won for best cinematography that
same year for his work on the terrible film A Beautiful Mind, starring
that Aussie with attitude Russell Crowe.
Deakins, who used the same digital work to manipulate the colors on O’
Brother Where Art Thou?, should have won for his amazing work on The Man
Who Wasn’t There instead. This film
certainly should have been more recognized on many other levels as well. This film is not just black and white
without a point; it is gloriously lit with a Noir-like direction. One cannot help but think of Billy Bob as a
good candidate for Humphrey Bogart, who The Coens and Deakins obviously have in
mind as a model for the character.
Billy Bob Thornton has
become even more respected as an actor and his performance here is sheer brilliance. He talks about as much in this picture as
Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Although he says very little his emotions or lack of emotions are read
simply through his movements and facial expressions, which work much better
since the film is monochrome. Color
would have never worked for this film, as black and white reduces the film to
the very basics, allowing for the performance to show through much stronger.
What makes certain films
great is their ability to do more with less and this is yet another example of
how less is more. The acting, the
script, the sets, the whole package is delivered and a lot of it seems
unimportant, but its relevance is subtle, yet essential. We meet Ed Crane a man who feels that he
matters very little to the world around him.
He has a wife played by the brilliant Frances McDormand that apparently
knows very little about him even though they appear to be a match. Ed is a barber who eventually leads to
blackmail and revenge as a means of escape from his utterly dull life, but
oddly enough no matter who is after him he is the man who was not there.
Although this film went
rather unnoticed in 2001, the now-defunct theatrical arm of USA Entertainment
brought this film to DVD, with well-deserved attention making this one of the
best DVD’s in terms of the value of the extras and the presentation both
visually & audibly. For starters
the film is in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically
enhanced. The picture quality is
exceptionally good giving merit to the beautiful black and white image. There is a very wide range of gray scale in
the picture. The blacks are never too
dark nor the whites too bright. This is
a perfect DVD to calibrate your TV to if you have not done so yet.
Audio-wise the film
contains a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, which is as with most dramas very front heavy
in terms of dialogue there is a large amount of voice over from the Ed Crane
character, which is prominently in the center channel. Directional effects that do occur are split
into the surrounds, but for the most part the only time that the left or right
surround channels become active is during the soundtrack, which contains
variations of Beethoven. This is
probably one of the best scores of 2001 as well.
Often times commentary
tracks can be literally useless, but for this film it is absolutely
awesome. The Coen Brothers are
extremely fun to listen to and Billy Bob is hysterical. They do talk about some of the more
technical aspects of the film, but never take themselves too seriously. There is a ‘Making Of’ feature on the DVD as
well, which is rather brief and could have been more extensive. Also included are deleted scenes and behind
the scenes photos. The best portion of
the supplements aside from the commentary is the interview with Roger Deakins
about his influences, and his choice to shoot the film this way and capture the
look of the old 40’s and 50’s films.
This is the sixth film that Deakins has shot for the Coen’s, comfortably
succeeding Barry Sonnenfeld, who went on to become a commercially successful
director on films like Get Shorty and the Men In Black
franchise. Deakins, who has also worked
with Martin Scorsese, is able to capture their vision and put the language to
the screen visually.
Although this film was not
a hit for the Brothers, as much as (and as far as) some of their other
works. It is certainly a better film
and I hope they choose to do more projects like this in the near future. With cinematic literacy on the decline,
special effects becoming commonplace and the centerpiece for the future of a
bleaker-looking cinema, there are directors out there that will go down with
the ship. The Coens are certainly among
- Nate Goss