November 29, 2001

The Thrill is Gone

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Though independent movies have a reputation for being more creative and more interesting overall than contrived Hollywood blockbusters, recklessly believing this can get one into trouble when going blindly into a theater. Such is the case with the Coen brothers’ latest, The Man Who Wasn’t There.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as the apparently emotionless Ed Crane. Ed is trapped in a dull life as a barber, barely knowing his wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), who he suspects has been unfaithful. When a business opportunity accidentally presents itself, Ed exploits his wife’s tendencies by anonymously blackmailing her lover. Just as it seems that his plan has gone off without a hitch, the lives of Ed and everyone around him spiral out of control.

While the plot seems to promise suspense and excitement, such thrills have managed to evade this film.

The black and white format, which usually adds to the artsy feel, seems to mute Thornton’s already bland narration, simulating a “trapped under a wet, grey blanket” effect. Most of the film consists of Thornton staring apathetically while his voiceover waxes philosophical about his aforementioned apathy.

This is not to say that Thornton’s performance is drab — quite the contrary. The fact that he could drain himself so entirely of emotion, and yet still subtly illustrate what his narration describes, shows his versatility.

Despite flaws, the acting was actually excellent across the board, with many notable performances. McDormand, who won an Oscar for her role in Fargo (another Coen brothers film), exquisitely portrays Ed’s crude, alcoholic wife, Doris. Her coarseness oddly compliments Thornton’s reserved character. Doris’ loquacious brother, Frank, was played wonderfully as well by Michael Badalucco, who conveys clueless Frank’s na