"The Man Who Wasn't There" stars Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane. Crane
is second chair in his compulsively talkative brother-in-law's
barbershop, although he says, "I never considered myself a barber." Such
detachment is as constant in Ed's life as the haze of smoke from his ever
Ed is in a loveless marriage to Doris (Frances McDormand), a
bookkeeper for Nirdlinger's department store. Her boss is the loud and
crude Big Dave (James Gandolfini), the son-in-law of the store's founder.
Ed suspects Doris' relationship with Big Dave is more than business, but
as with everything else in his life, he doesn't really care.
Set in Santa Rosa, California shortly after World War II, the entire
film is shot in glowing period appropriate black and white by
cinematographer Roger Deakins. The resulting burnished effect purposely
renders the scenery around this small California town sun-bleached and
featureless. The vintage clothing, hairstyles, cars and locations give
the picture just the right look.
Thornton turns in a superbly understated yet riveting performance.
Perhaps as important as his acting is his narration of the story. His
even-toned and deadpan inflection provides as much insight into the
character of Ed Crane as do any of the visuals. Virtually every role is
well cast and well acted. Particularly entertaining is Tony Shalhoub as
an arrogant defense attorney.
While dealing with every form of movie mayhem imaginable, "The Man Who
Wasn't There" has some genuinely funny moments. The story unfolds at a
somewhat leisurely pace, which is probably necessary given the richness
of the plot. The story never lags and is engrossing throughout.
This year the largest grossing pictures will be three films marketed
to children ("Harry Potter," "Shreck" and "Monsters, Inc."). Relatively
few people will see "The Man Who Wasn't There." I just hope some of
those viewers are voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts
* VINCENT A. (VAN) NOVACK, 48, is the director of institutional
research at Cal State Long Beach.