Film Noir: The Man Who Wasn’t There


Directed By: Joel Coen

Screenplay By: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Scarlett Johanson

The Coen brothers’ homage to film noir carries much of the stylistic qualities, but lacks in substance.

Apparently, the Coen brothers came up with this story while making another film; which figures because the story does come across as a little weak and not thoroughly thought out.  So it lacks the depth of other Coen movies.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as Ed Crane, a small town barber who suspects his wife (McDormand) is having an affair with her boss, Big Dave (Gandolfini).  Following an encounter with an entrepreneur with a dry cleaning business plan in need of investment, Ed Crane sets out to blackmail Big Dave for the $10,000 investment needed.  In doing so, he sets off a chain of events that will lead to murder.

The Coen brothers obviously understand the source material for their homage; the movie looks great filmed in black and white and capturing the era.  Their mix of dark humour, coincidence and quirks of character are present throughout and it certainly has enough about it to hold your attention.

But, for me, it is a victory for style over substance and although the movie looks like a film noir, it doesn’t feel like a film noir.  It’s an homage that almost border on spoof.

Noir Cynicism 06/10: Although a fairly cynical view point is held throughout, it fails to deliver a really bleak view of the world.
Noir Femme Fatale 05/10: Doris Crane is no femme fatale; she’s just a woman caught up in an unhappy marriage.  Birdy (Johanson) is nearer the mark, but she is essentially a girl who Ed Crane places on a pedestal, only to find he’s mistaken.
Noir Anti-Hero 05/10: Ed Crane is a bit of no hero.  In fact he’s rather inadequate as a man: his wife cheats on him and he fails to confront her; he’s suckered into the dry cleaning scam and his blackmail plans don’t quite work out.   
Noir Crime 04/10: blackmail and murder, nothing spectacular. 
Noir Dough $10,000 is the price of blackmail…and a dry cleaning business.
Noir Body Count 4
Noir Style 08/10:  It comes across a little bit of a noir by numbers, but it hits the mark stylistically.

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