Through a Lens Darkly

The Coen Brothers use black humor to put a new twist on film noir

Like the classic noirs of Billy Wilder or Abraham Polonsky, The Man Who Wasn't There depends more heavily on menacing atmosphere than coherent plot, but everything is lightened by the Coens' irrepressible urge to wise off. The neo-noir efforts of John Dahl and a few others aside, the genre is moribund, and the only useful way to resuscitate the corpse, even for a moment, is with wicked gallows humor. In this the brothers are relentless -- right down to the final scene in an execution chamber. To call it great fun may be an exaggeration, but there's no reason to stop laughing at the cruel jokes life plays against the Ed Cranes of the world.

Not all there: Billy Bob Thornton shines as a dim-witted blackmailer, while James Gandolfini makes a smart turn as his savvy prey in The Man Who Wasn't There.
Melinda Sue Gordon
Not all there: Billy Bob Thornton shines as a dim-witted blackmailer, while James Gandolfini makes a smart turn as his savvy prey in The Man Who Wasn't There.

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