Published Nov 01, 2001The writer/director/producer team of Joel and Ethan Coen have repeated tackled genre films: slapstick (Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski); crime thrillers (Blood Simple, Fargo); gangsters (Miller's Crossing); quests (O Brother Where Art Thou?); and now with their latest, The Man Who Wasn't There, film noir. Shot in the beautiful contrasts of black and white, it follows a small-time barber named Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), who feels like a ghost in his own life. He stares silently into space, disconnected from his job, his unfaithful wife (Frances McDormand), and his banal suburban world, at least until opportunity knocks in the form of an entrepreneur (Coen regular Jon Polito) looking for investors in a newfangled process called dry cleaning. Crane finally puts his life in motion with a scheme to raise funds by exploiting his wife's lover and boss (James Gandolfini). And while his actions finally have consequence, seemingly for the first time, Crane finds himself with no greater handle on things as events quickly spiral out of control. The Man Who Wasn't There rests squarely on the steady shoulders of Thornton, whose still physical presence provides a centre of calm in the midst of the storm he sets in motion. His performance is written entirely in the lines on his face, which the Coens and their long-time cinematographer Roger Deakins cast in beautiful shadows. The thematic echoes resonate with much of the Coens' work particularly the reluctant heroes of Blood Simple and Fargo touching on Shakespearean dilemma and Dostoevskyan morality. It's another brilliant piece of the Coens' puzzle, as they continue to build the most impressive body of work (with the exception of Steven Soderbergh) in modern cinema.