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The Man Who Wasn't There
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen USA, 2001
It’s another of the Coens’ grimly self-aware films about a man repeatedly beaten down by what appears to be a universe with a very twisted sense of humor. It could all get very depressing very quickly, but the expressive filmmaking — the stirring music, the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, the generous characterizations, and the gentle bursts of humor — renders it sublime.
February 05, 2016
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James Gandolfini doesn’t even make it past the 30-minute mark in The Man Who Wasn’t There, yet in every respect, he looms large over Joel and Ethan Coen’s unsung masterpiece. A black-and-white homage to film noir that revels in its self-conscious adoration of the genre, the Coens’ film is a methodical, meticulous tribute.
June 27, 2013
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Unlike most of the films in the Coens’ oeuvre, The Man Who Wasn’t There is neither screwball nor relentlessly grim. It is instead their most subtly engrossing film, advanced as it is by a deepening sense of the lost soul that Ed so fundamentally is.
November 16, 2010
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The problem with The Man is that, perhaps for the first time, the Coens have invested a character with genuine pathos, but seem to have done so (much to my own personal annoyance) only in the interest of later undercutting it with their typical brand of cynical Nihilism.
November 18, 2001
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The film contains sprinklings of the Coens’ trademark weirdness, but it’s also meticulously controlled, like an elaborate puppet show for adults.
November 11, 2001
Mr. Thornton is so quietly funny in his unflappably uninsistent way that he creates, for my money at least, the most strikingly engaging character in a movie I have seen all year–though I think his performance is too marvelously controlled and spectacularly self-effacing for a vulgar prize like the Oscar… The Man Who Wasn’t There is all there, artistically speaking, but it never pretends to be a feel-good entertainment.
November 05, 2001
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Falls frustratingly short of its potential, thanks to the Coens’ inability to construct a fluid narrative or respect characters enough to make them more than live-action cartoons.
November 01, 2001
After the ineffable The Big Lebowski and the wicked O Brother, Where Art Thou?, they now offer the most engrossingly eccentric American movie of the year (barring, of course, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive), the beautifully bizarre The Man Who Wasn’t There… The Coens walk a tightrope in this movie—there are moments when its absurdist humor could easily have plunged into nihilism. As always, their moviemaking skills dazzle, but in this case, it’s their cast that gets them safely to the other end of the tightrope.
November 01, 2001
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Apart from a couple of screwy Coen-style flashbacks, several fancy plot twists, and a few other postmodern indulgences, this is straight out of James M. Cain, though the high contrasts of Roger Deakins’s glorious black-and-white cinematography suggest at times Fellini’s 8 1/2 more than noir classics. Thornton seems born to play the sort of slow-witted poet of the mundane that the Coens find worthy of their condescending affection.
November 01, 2001
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[The Coen brothers’] most personal and most deeply heartfelt picture… Visually spectacular, endlessly inventive, teasingly ambiguous and uncommonly thoughtful, The Man Who Wasn’t There offers too many riches to be absorbed in a single viewing.
November 01, 2001
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There’s a fine distinction between the cool and the comatose and, punishingly slow, The Man Who Wasn’t There repeatedly drifts over the line. Were the Coens asleep at the wheel or presciently mourning the death of irony? Still, as pointless as the movie often feels, the production design is impeccable, even devotional.
October 31, 2001
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Though it’s touched by typically absurd or surreal moments of humour, it’s otherwise quite meditative and arty. It’s a brave and largely successful attempt to explore the inner workings of someone who simply doesn’t feel the way most of us do. Indeed, he doesn’t feel very much at all, and when he does, he doesn’t get it. In this the Coens’ sly script is helped no end by Billy Bob Thornton’s supremely eloquent performance as the taciturn tonsor, lent terrific support from Frances McDormand.
October 24, 2001
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The Coens deftly handle the film’s many twists and turns (which, according to Ed, shape one’s life) even if they hide behind noir jargon to oft-desperate effect.
October 22, 2001
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