I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Vern takes in THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE!!!

Hey folks, Harry here with the latest from that insane man… VERN. Vern comes from another planet…. or so I’ve heard. They apparently herd sheep into trailers there. He’s using this grazing ability to sum up the cornstalkability of this latest film from the Coens…. Here ya go…

THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE

by Vern

Monday I saw the new movie by the Coen Brothers.

First I gotta say, I am not exactly familiar with these brothers. The hughes brothers I know. The wachowski brothers. The Maysles brothers. The doobie brothers I know a thing or two about. For example, they have two drummers don’t they? I don’t know. The point is, you know more about the coen brothers than I do. Are they twins? I don’t know. Maybe they aren’t really brothers, it is only a stage name like the blues brothers, the smothers brothers or the isley brothers. The point is, I wouldn’t know. Because I know jack shit about them, if jack shit was two things.

The Man Who Wasn't ThereThese are the two things I know about the Coen brothers:

1. Everybody and their uncle e-mails me and says “Vern, you gotta check out this movie fargo, blah blah blah, the big lebowski, ha ha ha etc.”

2. They have titles I can’t make heads or tails of, like O Brother Where Art Thou and The Man Who Wasn’t There. What in fuck’s name is that supposed to mean? Nobody knows.

And now, #3 thing about the Coen brothers: their new one is one of the best movies I saw this year. Maybe not better than Brother, but up there with Ghost World and Scratch.

What this is is basically a film noir throwback. None of this neo-noir, updating the old routines for a modern audience bullshit like the Dahl brothers did in Red Rock West, or the Wachowski brothers did in Bound, or the Coen brothers did in Blood Simple. Which was a great fuckin movie, by the way. But still. What we got here is an old fashioned, black and white, Double Indemnity/Postman Always Rings Twice type shit. In fact this one wears its debt to the great author James M. Caine on its sleeve, even prominently using the name “Nirdlinger” which was the gal’s unfortunate name in his book Double Indemnity.

This ain’t a fucking parody. It’s an actual film noir. It happens to be a film noir made by these two goofball brothers, so the dialogue is all funny as hell, and it’s about barbers and what not, and it gets off on some weird tangents, but still. It’s real. The biggest twist is that instead of talking a mile a minute like Fred MacMurray and the other fellas, the protagonist here barely talks at all. Billy Bob Thornton plays Ed Crane, a barber who gets caught up in murder and blackmail type circumstances. And for most of the movie he stands around and smokes cigarettes and looks like he’s thinking real intensely about something. Or he just sits there while everybody yaps and yaps and he has this look like, why don’t these people shut the fuck up? And it makes you side with him no matter what he does. If there is a message to this movie, and who knows if there is, I only saw it once. But if there is a message, it is a non-verbal type message. Like, some things you can’t say in!
words. You just, you know, you just sort of, whatever. The coens are ridiculously meticulous Writers, who know how to masterfully construct dialogue and scenarios, which in this case they have carefully designed to express the idea that some things can’t be expressed in words.

Of course Billy Bob narrates the shit out of this movie (something you don’t get in the neo-noirs) but other than that he only talks when necessary, and even then keeps it brief. And I don’t know if it’s that, or the lighting or what but Mr. Thornton’s face looks more interesting than usual here. You just stare at the lines in his face and think, there couldn’t’ve been a better individual for this role. And if some actor tried to do a better job than this, I would just tell him to go fuck himself. Asshole. Because who is he fooling, really, is my point.

This picture is not for everybody. If you don’t like really slow paced, really good movies, you won’t like it. If you don’t like to laugh and enjoy movies that are fun and able to drill themselves deep into your soul, you also will not like it. However if you like this movie, you will like it.

As for the hardcore Coen fans, I talked to a few of these freakos after the show. Of the ones I polled, all of them thought this was in the higher echelon of coen pictures. One of them thought it was their best. All of them thought it was better than o brother. Two of them first said they loved it so much and they would tell me why, but then they got distracted and just quoted lines from the big lebowski to each other for about ten to fifteen minutes. Apparently there is something about what happens when you fuck some stranger in the ass.

The only thing really sad about this movie is that it hasn’t been released yet, and I still had an easier time seeing it than I did seeing Bones. I mean what’s the deal with that, I saw the trailer and the poster for months, they got the snoop guy on tv promoting it, the ad comes on every two minutes but I had to take two long bus rides to see it.

I thought Seattle was pretty much a real city these days. We got police brutality, we got people killed in mardi gras riots. We’re the real deal. Off the top of my head I can think of about ten major theaters in the various neighborhoods and not one of them is carrying Bones. I had to go to fucking Renton out in the middle of nowhere.
And okay, the movie isn’t quite the perfect modern day Blacula I was hoping for. But it’s not some little arthouse picture. These guys clearly spent alot of money advertising the thing, you’d think they’d want to have it on more than four screens per state. I’m sure we could clear out a Corky Romano or two, couldn’t we? The only thing I can figure is that the evil theater chain corporations are having some political fight with New Line Cinema over hobbit related issues which has gotten in the way of america being able to unleash the dogg.

Now I don’t know much about the rapping music but I do know this. Don’t poop on the snoop. That’s all I will say about this. You will not get another warning, people.

Anyway, my point is this. The Man Who Wasn’t There. Be there. your friend, Vern

Originally published at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/10661

View the archived Ain’t-It-Cool-News Talkback

  • Nov. 2, 2001, 4:49 a.m. CST

    Cracking film

    by Thorn Davis

    Saw this last Saturday and thought it was awesome. At the end everyone in the cinema just sat there completely gobsmacked. One of the guys I saw it with texted me 3 hours afterwards, writing that he hadn’t said anything since it finished. Amazing.

  • Nov. 2, 2001, 6:38 a.m. CST

    the drone brothers

    by stuntrocker

    I saw this here fah lick with Annette and Tom Joadster and we all were like diggin it man.I’ve seen Big Dude, O Bro!, sure is lot’s of smokin cigarettes though and it was long, like those ones they put on AMC in the middle of the night that are good but like a movie you might not have heard of. Then you feel stupid for not seeing it cause that narrator dude starts giving you the low down on the Director or the Star and you feel like now you’re cool again cause you had a clue about something he was sayin and I think like even the worst Coen Bros movie could go on AMC and like this ain’t the worst one brother. T and A liked it too.

  • Nov. 2, 2001, 8:50 a.m. CST

    Great review. Very clever. Thank you.

    by prince kamal

  • Nov. 2, 2001, 6:40 p.m. CST

    The Coen Brothers are Holland’s pride and glory.

    by JQuintana

    As a Dutchman I feel very flattered about the really nice things people have been saying about the Coen Brothers. They are indeed really talented folk and nice people. And also very level-headed, which is a trait that the people of the Netherlands are known for. So thanks for the compliments and I would just let everyone know that in Holland we are imensely proud that the Coen brothers (you pronounce it “Kuhn” in Dutch) have managed to make such a reputation for themselves on the other side of the Atlantic. Cheers guys.

  • Nov. 2, 2001, 8:01 p.m. CST

    Don’t get yer hopes up, Coenheads

    by FortyWatto

    As someone who’s seen every Coen Bros movie on opening day for the last decade or so, it pains me to say I hated this one. On account of it being a painfully slow, directionless mess. On account of the fact that its writers can’t seem to be bothered with telling a cohesive story anymore, and are content just coasting on what’s now become shtick.

  • Nov. 2, 2001, 10:12 p.m. CST

    A Beethoven tune and the Brothers Coen

    by stuntrocker

    I spaced. Joadster wasn’t there with me at this particular screening. Just Annette Kellerman. So before he says anything I repeal his endorsement.(Temporarily I’m sure)

    My friend Joel invited a bunch of us. And afterwards they handed out some B/W masks like the Malkovich mask except only the top half of kids faces with different hairstyles from the period that Billy Bob Barber snips. You can poke the cardboard eyes out and look at yourself in the mirror and make goofy faces (pull a nanker) at strangers but AK wouldn’t let me.

    She knows that uptight people get freaked out and terrorized by me. Don’t tell her but I went to IMDB and looked at the pictures of Scarlett Johansson wearing grownup makeup. I guess Scarly Jo wears alot more makeup in public than in the movies. Here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna see this movie and you’re gonna totally grok some of the characters or totally smooth out to something about it. The ‘tography, ‘thoven, ‘thornton, somethin. You may not be entirely comfortable, (I ate too much candy)I got a restless feeling here and there. If you’re younger you’re more interested in sneaking in and out of From Hell after buying tickets to Monsters, Inc. anyway. I’d prefer to see this one at the Alamo next time so’s I could get a pitcher.

    My fave: Walter and Birdy and the intro to Riedenschneider. (note:don’t be intimidated by this movie, it’s OK to laugh at anytime.)

  • Nov. 3, 2001, 9:05 a.m. CST

    I loved it

    by gah rides again

    I enjoyed the fuck out of this movie when I saw it last night at the Arbor 7 in Austin. It is just so funny and absurd and stylistic, like nearly every other Coen Brothers movie. The tone and the pacing of the movie perfectly matches Ed’s personality. Which of course makes sense. This is his life. This is how it went wrong. I just wanted to crawl up inside this movie and stay there for a long while.

  • Nov. 4, 2001, 3:04 a.m. CST

    It’s okay but it’s DEFINITELY NOT the great Coen Bros fi

    by Lt. Torello

    Dreamy b&w cinematography. Good Billy Bob. Good Gandolfini. Good Scarlett Johansen (looking every bit as mm-baby as she does in “Ghost World”). Really great Tony Shalhoub (you’re forgiven for “13 Ghosts” and the last couple seasons of “Wings.”) BUT… After a promising first act, this thing just winds down…and then stops…but keeps breathing…and there you are watching it just ’cause it’s the Coens and it’s been such a shitty film year and it’s just GOTTA GET BETTER…but it doesn’t… Worst of all, there’s no Coen trademark set-piece. Think “Raising Arizona,” you think of the cartoon-like chase sequences. Think “Miller’s Crossing,” you think of the Tommy gun battle. Think “Big Lebowski,” you think the musical sequence to “Just Dropped In.” There’s NOTHING that stands apart in this flick that makes you step back and say “God, yes! These guys are national treasures!” One last thing: I live in Santa Rosa. That ain’t Santa Rosa up there on screen, not even close. We don’t have a “Main” or “Garson” Streets. And Sacramento is about 80 miles northeast, so we don’t go “down” there. I know, they filmed it in Southern California figuring no one gives a rat’s ass, but the least they coulda done is look up some real street names and have their art director check out books by Gaye LeBaron who has studiously compiled photographic records of the town. “Miller’s” Crossing” remains their masterpiece.

  • Nov. 4, 2001, 4:45 p.m. CST

    this movie was terrific!

    by carouselambra

    Yea. This is probably the least screwy/funny Coen Brothers movie yet. I can’t compare it to “O Brother,” really, it’s so different. “O Brother” was hilarious, full of allusions to literature, music, history. This sits firmly in noir. Too impossible to compare. Both great. The best thing about “The Man” was the language; just brilliant, beautiful speeches and phrases. Certainly the Coen’s had a blast writing it. What a joy it was to hear from Thornton’s excellent voiceover. Great film. Is there anything better than being swept into a Coen film world? Along with “Ghost World,” probably the best movie I’ve seen since “O Brother.”

  • Nov. 4, 2001, 5:37 p.m. CST

    Very Funny

    by wet.web.work

    “O Brother” was an okay film, but the humour passed me by. “The Man” though is funny as hell. Not a lot of people were laughing when I saw it, but the scene with The Medical Examiner in the bar – that was funny, right? The way it was spun out and you were kept waiting for what he had to say was brilliant.

    I disagree that this movie felt slow or that it lacked a story. It had as story to tell, and told it well, and it made a change from the usual Hollywood carnage popcorn movie.

    And did I mention that it was funny?

  • Nov. 5, 2001, 7:34 a.m. CST

    Another instant classic from the Coens.

    by daveynix

    Saw it last week – utterly mesmerising. Someone commented above that it dies at the end and that it doesn’t have a defining moment… The beauty of this is that although it contains many of the Coen trademarks (flawed hero starts chain of events which get him mixed up in all manners of tomfoolery/fat men/wigs/hats) it doesn’t feel like any of the other movies so far. So what if it doesn’t have one siganture scene (although I would argue that a sequence toward the end starting and ending with a hubcap had that Coen class that we love…) – surely that would spoil the flow of the rest of the film. What they did instead, was EVERY scene special (so many quirks!!).

    Go see it and prove me right!

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, November 2nd, 2001 at 4:42 am and is filed under AICN, Crime, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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