Posted by: jgurner | January 21, 2011

The Cheap Bin – The Man Who Wasn’t There

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anita and I pull a lot of movies from the various DVD “cheap bins.” Quite often, they are movies we’ve never even heard of or may have only heard the name. Sometimes we decide to get it because of the cast, or the blurb on the case or we thought we heard something good about the movie. Sometimes I don’t have a clue why we get them. But, since these are often the bulk of the movies we watch, I thought I’d start doing an occasional review. Often, these movies are years, even decades old, but, it’s nice to take a look back at something that might actually be really, really good.

The Man Who Wasn’t There

2001 – Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Francis McDormand, James Gandolfini and a lot of other cool people.

Directed and Written by” The Coen Brothers

Big Lots – $3 bin

I’d never heard of this movie before we came across it in the cheap bin. It’s got a very impressive list of stars and we were, of course, familiar with the Coen brothers. I know much of what they’ve done is very well received and I really do like some of their movies. Burn After Reading and The Hudsucker Proxy are probably my favorites (Haven’t seen No Country for Old Me or True Grit yet.) On the other hand, Raising Arizona was a yawner and I just don’t get The Big Lebowski. And I really have tried. This one, however, kind of fooled me. Great cast, acclaimed directors/writers, kind of dull description on the DVD case. We got it anyway, and man, am I glad we did. It’s now my favorite of their movies.

The Story: Set in the 1950s, Billy Bob Thornton is a barber, working second chair at his brother-in-law’s barber shop. He’s not a man who talks a lot, but everyone around him does. His wife, Francis McDormand, rules the roost and is having an affair with her boss, James Gandolfini, which Thornton’s character doesn’t seem to mind too much. However, when a too-good-to-be-true investment opportunity comes around, Thornton uses his wife’s affair with her boss to blackmail him for some quick cash. After that, everything goes completely insane.

I like a movie that surprises me, and this one certainly did. There’s so much that goes on. There are so many twists and turns in this dark comedy that as it rolls to the end, you really have no idea where it’s going. Thornton plays the perfect deadpan through the entire movie as one strange twist after another sweeps him along. The entire cast is great, especially Tony Shaloub as the a fast-talking, big-time attorney. As you watch it, you almost imagine Thornton’s character going through a pinball machine, bouncing off of this, being flipped back into play by that, almost forgetting that he is the one who pulled the plunger and got it all rolling. Plus, there a lot of just random weirdness thrown in that ends up not being so random at all.

The movie is in black and white, which adds a nice, stark visual tone. You imagine you’re seeing the same colorless world Thornton sees every day of his life. And while a couple of times it may seem like the movie has gone on beyond where you think it should be stopping, or you think you know what’s going to happen, it takes another highly satisfying turn.

Movies like this tend to get over looked when you get to where the Coen brothers are today, ridding the almost universal acclaim for their remake of True Grit. Case in point, I’d never heard of this. Maybe because it was a “little” movie, seemingly a pet project crammed in between the great O Bother Where Art Thou and the star-studdedly lousy Intolerable Cruelty, they were left alone enough to make something that turned out to be truly brilliant.


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