Reviewed by: Carole McDonnell
|Featuring:||Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Scarlett Johansson, James Gandolfino|
We all know that adultery tends to destroy families. But never has adultery destroyed a family as spectacularly as it does in Joel and Ethan Coen film, “The Man Who wasn’t There”. In the film, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) has lived a life where he fell into marriage and fell into his wife’s family business. He has arrived at his station (pun intended) in life by not making any real decisions. After figuring out that his wife has been having an affair, Ed decides on a plan—the first real decision of his life—and, of course, disaster strikes. Why does it strike? Because, as usual, these loser characters always choose to repair their lives by doing something vaguely shady.
This black and white film is a descendant of the film noir genre where some loser is dogged by bad luck. it’s a genre I used to like in my younger days. But I have gotten increasingly impatient with it as I’ve gotten older and more spiritually mature as a Christian. But we’ll discuss my reservations at the end. First, let us discuss Ed. Why isn’t he “there?” Well, for one he is silent. At a dinner party at his house, he is so self-engrossed and so judgmental of the boorish Big Dave (James Gandolfini)—whom his wife is having an affair with—that he spends the entire dinner silent. This silence is normal for him and stems from a combination of stand-offish arrogance, a general alienation from normal everyday all-American life, and a bad case of morbid introspection. He is continually comparing himself with other men for better or worse, usually for worse. it’s the kind of shyness that is part pride and makes him a brick wall people bounce their thoughts off of. Why he is like this, we’re never told. And although it’s not an excuse, we know that a sullen curmudgeonly husband such as this is going to end up with a bored wife Doris in this case (Frances McDormand) who needs excitement, or at least someone she can talk to.
Of course, if we know our film noir, we know that losers have no chance of winning. Something: fate, their own nature, a perverse justice, an evil kind of twisted destiny—is going to get them sooner or later. In short: these guys should never have been born. we’ve come to why I simply can’t stand this kind of movie, however well done the film—and make no mistake, this movie is a masterpiece of its genre. The fact is that, as a Christian, I simply don’t buy the “loser” theory. I certainly know that some folks have had hard lives where a whole string of bad things have happened to them. So I’m not being “Little Miss Positive” here. But the genre almost always preaches this “Loser” theory. The minute the quasi-hero attempts to repair his life (in a bad way, as usual) the wheels of the gods invariably set out to destroy him.
Now, should I be getting this annoyed at a philosophy that few people take seriously? Yes. After all, the word “loser” is so much a part of our American vocabulary. I have met way too many people who seem to believe that they are losers and that everything they touch will go up in flames. So it’s not the adultery, the murder, the blackmailing that bugs me in this movie. it’s the nihilism and the hopelessness.
In the story of Macbeth, Macbeth tells the audience, “Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” it’s the idea of a meaningless world. People with no spiritual or literary discernment often agree with Macbeth, forgetting that Macbeth brought his troubles on himself: God is not to be blamed. Likewise, this movie might confuse a few people by seeming to make a statement about the “good” guys in the world. This film is a real downer and I am truly annoyed that I saw it. A few months ago I bought an anthology of horror stories, which I had assumed I liked. It turns out that I do not like horror short stories at all. Ghost stories, yes—horror stories no. I have found myself trying to take some of those stories out of my mind. But too late, they’re in my mind to stay, forever disturbing me. It is the same with this movie. It is a downer, emotionally and spiritually. Some folks won’t be as affected by it as I was. But teenagers, the depressed, and those who are seeking some kind of joy and meaning in life should not see it.
Profanity consists of about 25 uses of God’s name in vain, with some other minor crude language. Sexual situations are pretty minimal, but do include one instance of implied oral sex (nothing much shown, ending in a car crash before much happens), and one homosexual pass at a heterosexual male (not appreciated by the hetero man).
…frequent strong profanity…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…direction is superb, and the acting is flawless. Billy Bob Thornton gives the performance of a lifetime…
—Ted Baehr, Movieguide