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The Man Who Wasn't There

Billy Bob Thornton stars in The Man Who Wasn't There as Ed Crane, a barber who wants to be a drycleaner. That's how Joel and Ethan Coen teasingly describe their ambitious and unique existential noir comedy, but as usual with Coen Brothers' fare, what the movie is really about is anybody's guess. Crane is a cipher; barely a factor in anyone else's life, let alone his own, rarely acting and barely reacting, making only the slightest physical impression, like an inert gas in a gray suit. When he does finally engage, and then only negligibly, everything around him explodes in a tangle of adultery, blackmail and murder. Although The Man Who Wasn't There is one of the Coens' slowest-paced films, it is visually dazzling and infused with the brothers' typically quirky scenarism and humor. This unusual movie may leave impatient viewers adrift, but fans of their more obscure films, such as Barton Fink and The Big Lebowski, should find plenty to absorb and puzzle over. Thornton is incredible, both striking and transparent, his stillness riveting. The great supporting cast — Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Jon Polito, Michael Badalucco, and Tony Shalhoub — more than compensates for Ed Crane's impotent presence. Also with Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins and Katherine Borowitz. The gorgeous anamorphic transfer (1.85:1 ) on USA's DVD release does director of photography Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner proud, and Carter Burwell's lurching score is well served by a crisp Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. This disc also includes a great, funny commentary with Joel and Ethan Coen and Thornton, two interview featurettes with cast and crew, and five deleted scenes (four of which are less than 15 seconds long). Trailers, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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