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  • The Man Who Wasn't There (2001): ***

    Directed by Joel Coen

    I love the Coen brothers because of their purely insulated brand of filmmaking. Their movies take place in very specific worlds oustide of which nothing exists.

    This movie is again like that, creating a very specific universe that exists only to serve the movie. It is full on Coen favorites (except John Goodman or John Turturro) who all are way above and beyond good. All the characters are distinct and memorable, and yet they all have a similar flare to them that binds them all together as a part of this noir universe they have created. There is just something inherently satisfying about watching a filmed world that is so specifically and successfully rendered. The direction is simply brilliant.

    However. There is something unsitisfying about this movie. It is not as much fun to watch a noir movie where the protagonist does absolutely nothing. He only ever does two things in the movie, the blackmail then the murder, both within the first half hour. For the next hour and a half he does nothing but watch as the string of consequences unravel from those two actions. He does nothing to try to stem the tide. In excellent noir movies, like Bound by the Wachowski brothers, the fun comes from people trying desperately to stay one step ahead of disaster. This movie plays out like a melodrama. Something bad happens to the barber. Then something else bad happens. Then something even worse. Again. Again. It just marches down the line, misfortune after misfortune. It's all very clever and surprising and ironic and there is fantastic Coen brothers reincorporation, but it is just too hard to get involved because you have nothing to root for in the main plot. You just wait for the next catastrophe against which Ed won't react.

    Even still, I could tell that the Coen brothers were trying to do all this on purpose. They created the sub-plot with Birdie, which is the only plot that Ed takes an active role in, to show how he misplaces his energy on this plot instead of the main plot. And it works. The movie, like all Coen brothers movies, is exactly as it is supposed to be. Their mastery of the filmmaking craft is at its usual high. But I guess I just didn't enjoy the story that they told quite as much as their usual movies.

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