Anyone going to see “The Man Who Wasn’t There” when it was shown recently on campus, was confronted with the film noir reality of Santa Rosa, CA.
Film noir, a sub-genre of American film, evolved in post-war America during the 1940s. It is traditionally utilized as a means to highlight the dark, inhumane side of human nature, which is often ignored.
Films such as these are characterized by dark, foreboding atmospheres, purposeful cinematography and dynamic characters. Through the use of these elements, the director attempts to construct a world in which these darker traits of human nature are apparent.
The conventions of noir cinema were strictly followed by the Cohens. The pacing of the movie is intense, and filmed in black and white. The setting of Santa Rosa, CA, is that of a post-war 1940s town.
This, coupled with deliberate lighting effects and cinematic techniques, add to the gothic undertones. The Cohens succeed in casting shadows on each of the characters. As a result, the environment is one of uncertainty, and the only thing that remains clear is someone is going to get it.
Everyone is a suspect. Now this is not subject matter I would expect from the Cohen brothers, and so I was at first skeptical ? these are the same writers of “The Big Lebowski” ? but I was willing to give them a chance. I was not disappointed.
The Cohen brothers are known for their random storylines, and the same is found with this film. Ed, played by Billy Bob Thornton, who has been overlooked his entire life is offered an investment opportunity. This requires him to raise $10,000. While the barber trade is quite profitable, he decides to blackmail Big Dave (James Gandolfini), who is sleeping with his wife Doris (Frances McDormand). Who better to blackmail than the corrupt department store owner?
Ed is confronted by Big Dave, who attempts to kill him, but Ed gets the upper hand with a letter opener to the throat.
Ed’s wife is arrested for the murder of Big Dave, as once again Ed is overlooked. The random events that follow are a direct result of Ed’s actions, but they never actually have an impact on him.
As the title suggests, Ed is a man who is repeatedly overlooked as if he “wasn’t there.”
This barber is a cynical chain-smoker, who narrates his repeated episodes of misfortune. Thornton’s monotononous, apathetic narration is disturbing, for, no matter how difficult things become, he appears to be unaffected. Cohen favorite Frances McDormand from Fargo is the film noir femme fatale, as Ed’s wife Doris.
Thornton repeatedly helps his wife despite her affair with Big Dave. Gandolfini is much better as Tony Soprano, but he still does this character justice as a corrupt entrepreneur. The effectiveness of this film lies in that we all can relate to Ed’s feelings of isolation.
We are taken on a journey of arbitrary twists and turns ? Ed’s journey to self-discovery. There is more to the Cohen brothers than it appears, and The Man Who Wasn’t There is worth a viewing, when it is released on video, April 16, 2002.
Wilson can be reached at email@example.com