ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  joel coen

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  116 minutes

RELEASED  -  2 november 2001

DISTRIBUTOR  -  usa films

OFFICIAL SITE  -  man who wasn't

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $20,000,000
the man who wasn't there - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from the man who wasn't there at

buy the dvd from the man who wasn't there at

about an unhappy barber living in california in the mid-1940s discovers that his wife has been unfaithful to him, and concocts a blackmailing scheme to teach her a lesson.

the movie was filmed in color, then printed in black and white by special processing. however, at least one print was released with the first reel in normal color due to an error at the lab.


picture from the man who wasn't there

picture from the man who wasn't there

picture from the man who wasn't there


three out of four possible stars

This film is an authentic bit of film noir that sticks to most of the rules and gets the formula just right. A great combimation of acting and cinematography make this film a success. although it's not a perfect movie from start to finish, it's usually content with being quite a deliberate piece of filmmaking. Every shot looks to have been well thought out. The composition and angles used in each scene all have that classic film noir look where the person in the shot is really the only thing upon which to focus. The walls are nearly bare, having only a few decorations. And the rooms have just the minimum amount of furniture.

The use of black and white film also creates an environment where everything is crystal clear. Perhaps because the eye doesn't have to contend with a thousand different colors and is able to focus on the elements and composition of the scene. And, like I said, Joel and Ethan Coen are pretty successful in creating a look for the world that these tortured characters live in. It's hard to get the whole "noir" element correct, given that sometimes these types of film can become kind of cheesy, especially when they've been made after the actual period of noir filmmaking ended. It's not always easy to take a film like this seriously.

Of course, this film owes a lot of its success to Billy Bob Thornton, who, as usual, creates a character that is especially interesting, even though in this film he plays a man of few words. Thornton plays the classic noir hero. He's an ordinary man who gets caught up in events that he can't control and sets into motion because of a small mistake on his part. The character then becomes so tangled in the plot that he commits some awful deed that plunges him down a path from which he can't escape. Now, that might sound like a bunch of movie-hoo-ha and film student babble, but film noir is almost like a science, and creating one of these films fifty years after the era ended is quite a task.

There's been so much written about this genre that making mistakes is really easy. But the Coen brothers have a way of not messing up. Maybe it's the casting, maybe it's their scripts. They've taken the noir genre and given it their own kind of twist, making it modern and classic all at the same time. One of the elements of this film that I think is more Coen than Noir is the deadpan humor that the dialogue gives the characters. The picture wasn't completely serious and every couple of scenes there was a bit of dialogue or an odd gesture from a character that would get a laugh from the audience. It's strange, but the coens here have created a film that so resembles a film noir but infuses some of that dry Coen humor that's almost reminiscent of those scenes between William H. Macy and Frances McDormand (who also has a role in this film) in Fargo.

I've seen a very small amount of humor in authentic film noirs from the 1940's, but the laughs are different. The people in The Man Who Wasn't There are almost modern people stuck in 1949. This isn't a bad thing, but it gives the film a different slant. I'd like to compliment the cinematographer and the set designer with creating a world for these characters that's possibly one of the most interesting elements of this film. Since the film was developed in black and white, the filmmakers had a lot of work because colors don't show up in the same shades as they do in color. Red, for example, looks almost black.

So the colors of every piece of furniture or item of clothing have to be well thought out, so that the film has the proper amount of contrast, allowing the audience to differentiate between the elements in the shots. It might sound a little complicated, but choosing colors for a black and white film, or shot, is probably harder than doing the same for color film. You can't just pick colors that look good together. They have to show up well on film. The supporting cast for this film was pretty successful in that the characters were all very diverse and added elements to this film that created a full world for the story. It was well-thought out and made it seem like every shot counted.

I think that James Gandolfini was a great pick for the doomed character of "Big Dave." As with his other work, he proved with this performance that he is capable of being more than just the sinister gunman in an episode of "The Sopranos." Though in that series, he's quite versatile as well. His character though was probably the one that was the most modern. A man with feelings who shows those feelings isn't a common find in a film noir. His character is an addition to the film which added something to the film that wasn't quite normal. But that was a creative and risk-taking step which I think works for the picture, given that it's not strictly a piece of film noir.

It's nice to see a little bit of Coen thrown into the mix. But this film isn't competely perfect, even if I've portrayed it to be in the past few paragraphs. It contains a few things that could have been fixed very easily in the editing room. It's the pace of the flick which sometimes makes it seem as though, only the immortal words of Gertrude Stein would be appropriate: there is no there there.

Although it improves near the end, this film certainly starts out quite slow. There are sequences where no characters talk and there's no music playing and it becomes somewhat obvious that the movie isn't moving forward as quickly as it should. And since this occurs mainly in the first half hour, during what's commonly called the first act, the plot kind of stalls. It picks up during the second half of the film and by the end it hums along pretty good. The Coen brothers are mostly successful here in creating a film that's both unique and classic.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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