Archives Ratings Mrs. Filthy Gooden Worsted

Now Playing

Susan Granger of the Susan S Granger Syndicate

Domestic Distrubance is "scary!"

Life as a House is "a heart-grabber that lifts the spirit!"

My First Mister is "a heart-grabber that lifts the spirit!" (I swear to God she used that quote twice)

The Last Castle is "compelling, crowd-pleasing escapist entertainment with a patriotic, flag-waving finale."

Charles Nordhoff -
Mutiny on the Bounty

The Big Sleep

Luna -

Shop at!


Big Empire

Post-it Theater

Las Vegas

The Gift ElectroniquÈ

Big Empire Buddies

©2001 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights fucking reserved.

This week:

The Man Who Wasn't There

Filthy says:
"A damn good movie."

I was pretty broke before I lost my job, and now it's desperation time. I'm not complaining, and I sure as fuck ain't asking for a handout because I have my dignity and pride.

I know for some of you being broke is a fucking party. You make games of it, eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and drinking Hi-C Fruit Punch and then having a contest the next day to see if you can even shittier. It's all a blast, I'm sure, but not for a man of pride and dignity. Especially not a man who has a wife with a job that pays for rent and food, but barely enough for an allowance for her husband. A man of pride and dignity should have a little walking-around money in his pocket, and he shouldn't have to steal from his wife's purse.

A man of pride and dignity does not beg for money no matter how badly he needs it. In fact, I can think of nothing less honorable than begging. So, I have to lie. I told my parents the Frito Bandito snuck into the apartment and stole our salted snacks. I told my sister that my wife was being held ransom for $500, and she believed it until Mrs. Filthy walked into the room and said "Who's on the phone?" This week, I'm going to hit the in-laws up with some bullshit about how I broke my foot while saving a baby that fell into a well.

In the meantime, it's hand to mouth time here at the Filthy household. While the Mrs. is off comparison shopping pants at K-Mart, I barely have enough money to go see a movie and eat a Baja Combo at Rubio's, or the half-rack dinner with dirty slaw at Brother's. That kind of poverty makes a man feel small. I swear, if I get any broker, I'm gonna get a job.

Maybe as a barber. I saw the fine new black-and-white noir The Man Who Wasn't There this week, and in it Billy Bob Thornton plays a barber. It got me to thinking about how great it would be to be a barber. I would be really good at it, you know, cutting hair, sweeping up stuff, and sitting there reading newspapers while waiting for customers.

I don't want to cut women's hair because they are real particular. They want their hair to look all nice and shit. But, most guys don't give a monkey's tit. They just want their hair cut short so that whoever is hassling them will shut the fuck up. Besides, the guys who really care how their hair looks are the same vain fuckers who most deserve a shitty haircut. They would say they want their hair poofy or long, and they would bust my balls because I missed a spot or because their bangs aren't even. If someone gave me a hard time, I could shave a big hole in his head, give him the mirror and say "Fuck you, asshole." And then I'd make them pay me anyway.

Shit, now that I think about it I really want to be a barber. I've got some enemies whose hair I want to get my hands on.

That's the opposite of Billy Bob Thornton's character in The Man Who Wasn't There, a man who became a barber not because he wanted to, but because of his lack of ambition. In late 40s Santa Rosa, California, this unassuming, almost catatonic man, finds himself at the center of a shitstorm he created by simply wanting to no longer be a barber. Instead, he dreamed of being a dry cleaner. He needs $10,000 to buy into a partnership, and he can get it by blackmailing his wife's boss, with whom she's having an affair. As a result of his scheme, his wife is jailed for her boss's murder, another man is killed, the brother-in-law's barber shop is mortgaged to the bank, a young girl breaks her clavicle. Thornton just skates through the messes that pile up on either side, mostly because he's stopped caring. In fact, the only people who get themselves in deep shit are those with ambitions, no matter how petty or grandiose. Get some ambition and you're screwed.

He's numb. I've seen it before, and I'm not talking about the time Worm drank that rubbing alcohol. Worm was physically numb, and it was pretty fun throwing darts at him. But Thornton is spiritually and emotionally numb. He's like all those guys that have jobs they didn't think they'd still have by the time they were this old. They thought something magical would happen and they'd be running a studio or company or modeling underwear in American Male. They're the guys who go through every day thinking that life will become worth living tomorrow if they can just hang on. No joy, no sadness, just barely exist and get to tomorrow and hope to God that somebody intervenes to make life worth going outside for.

Shit, sometimes I wake up and I hope that my brakes will fail and I'll crash into a bus stop, or that I'll have cancer and everyone will feel bad for me. Not that those are good things, but they're something. Something not like every other day. And Thornton's character says the same thing: Even though he's lost his wife, house, and is under mounting pressure, he at least can feel it. And feeling something is pretty grand.

The Man Who Wasn't There is immaculately plotted, if a little slow. The trouble begins with a single blackmail incident, but it spider-webs out from there. Most movies focus so closely on the central crime that they don't consider the impact. Here, the impact of this simple crime ripples and creates deeper shit for everyone it touches. It's like when the Harelip got busted with the crystal meth. The issue wasn't just her going to jail. It was her giving her boss a blowjob so he wouldn't tell the big boss where she was, and then him getting fired when he was caught lying, and then the security guard at Safeway catching him shoplifting cold medicine two weeks later. Except the movie is a lot more intricate than anything anyone around here can think up.

Noir movies work on the principle that there is a finite amount of crime and a finite amount of justice in the universe. Ultimately, the justice is always meted out to the right people, if not always at the right time or for the right crime. The Coen Brothers do a hell of a job writing a traditional noir without making their characters jump through hoops to end up where they want them. It's a smooth and flawless plot.

Billy Bob Thornton looks a hell of a lot better in black and white than he does in color. The deep ruts in his face stop making him look like a freak and become character and depth. His unflinching, bored-to-the-teeth stare is hypnotic. He is fucking fantastic as the barber who wants to be a businessman. Frances McDormand is also very good as his philandering wife, and James Gandolfini is perfectly fine in a small role as McDormand's lover and boss, although a less threatening actor would have worked better. Tony Shalhoub pulls himself from the fires of hell that were licking his balls after he appeared in the shit-on-toast 13 Ghosts. He's a good actor here as an arrogant lawyer who doesn't give a fuck about the truth, just what sounds best.

The only real problem with The Man Who Wasn't There is that it wants so hard to be something else. It would stand up beautifully as its own story if the Coens didn't spend so much fucking time making sure it's a "tribute" to noir. Rather than feel authentic, the movie always feels like a very good reproduction. It's a shiny new replica, scrubbed free of the grime and dirt of the original. And every scene feels just a bit too self-aware that it's imitating other movies. It's a paint-by-number with the mechanical perfection of a replica without any heart of its own.

Four Fingers for The Man Who Wasn't There. It's damn good, but it ain't great.

 Enter an e-mail address and send this page to a friend:

Want to tell Filthy something?