August 1, 2008

The Man Who Wasn't There

I've been going back through the Coens' less successful (commercially or critically) films recently, including Miller's Crossing (1990), Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), and The Man Who Wasn't There (2001). I've yet to see Intolerable Cruelty (2003) or The Ladykillers (2004). Of those four, The Man Who Wasn't There is the best, followed, in order, by Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Miller's Crossing (yawn).

The IMDb summary ties up all the plot's various loose ends better than I could:

1949, Santa Rosa, California. A laconic, chain-smoking barber with fallen arches tells a story of a man trying to escape a humdrum life. It's a tale of suspected adultery, blackmail, foul play, death, Sacramento city slickers, racial slurs, invented war heroics, shaved legs, a gamine piano player, aliens, and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Ed Crane cuts hair in his in-law's shop; his wife drinks and may be having an affair with her boss, Big Dave, who has $10,000 to invest in a second department store. Ed gets wind of a chance to make money in dry cleaning. Blackmail and investment are his opportunity to be more than a man no one notices.

What a cast! It's seems as if everyone wants to work with the Coens. You've got Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand (of course married to Joel Coen), Tony Soprano James Gandolfini, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Shalhoub mixed in with Coen stock actors like Jon Polito and Michael Badalucco. I love the black and white and would agree with a comment someone makes in one of the DVD's special features that the film could not have been made in color. It fits in nicely among the classic noir films it emulates, such as The Big Sleep (1946) and Double Indemnity (1944). Here is the trailer:

And some screen captures:

This is not a film I'd recommend to anyone who is trying to quit smoking.

The Butch

The Flat Top

The Ivy (as in Ivy League)

The Crew

The Vanguard

The Junior Contour

The Executive Contour


Werner Herzog's Bear said...

A highly underrated film. I'm also glad to know there are others who are exquisitely bored in the Nac.

Chris said...

Hey, werner! I liked Fitzcarraldo, by the way. Its creation sort of makes the filming of Apocalypse Now seem like a cake walk. I hadn't realized you now reside in Nacogdoches, Texas. How weird. Go figure.....