(15) 116 mins 0000.

The Coen brothers’ latest reinvention of a classic Hollywood film genre is their most audacious to date: The Man Who Wasn’t There mixes

hard-boiled, small town film noir

with existentialism and metaphysics. The result is wry- humoured, retro-styled, wickedly-plotted, moody gem - the boy’s best film yet, which, considering their terrific filmography, is saying something.

Set in the Californian backwater town of Santa Rosa

(also the location of Hitchcock’s

Shadow Of A Doubt) circa the 19405, The Man Who Wasn’t


retro-styled, wickedly-plotted, moody gem

There takes its cue from the cynical world of pulp crime writers like James M. Cain. The tale turns on a regular fella who is the unwittingly catalyst for a spiralling series of events beginning with infidelity and extortion and ending with, well, maybe you can guess.

The man in question is Ed Crane (played by Billy Bob Thornton), a mild-mannered barber. Crane is disturbed by his wife Doris’ (Frances McDormand) philandering with local flamboyant businessman Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). Almost on a whim, he attempts to extort cash from Brewster, but immediately things begin to go wrong and thereafter it’s nothing but a long, slippery slope for Crane. But infidelity is not the only thing on Crane’s mind; he has concerns about the very nature of existence. In one astonishing scene, cutting a young boy’s hair prompts Crane to wonder where the hair comes from and where it goes once he’s ‘thrown it out in the dirt’.

Plotting and philosophising are so intricately and subtlety intertwined, it’s hard to tell whether Crane’s misguided actions result from his existential angst or whether his angst is symptomatic of his unhappy domestic life. It’s a chicken and egg scenario. What’s clear is Crane isn’t there, metaphysically-speaking. He sleepwalks through his life while nobody around him pays much attention. In the barber shop, his partner Frank Raffo (Michael Badalucco) talks endlessly not so much at Crane, but into the air. Late in the film, Crane admits to a capital crime in the company of his lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub), who takes absolutely no notice.

All this might be heavy-handed and somewhat pretentious if the Coens took it and themselves seriously. However, they avoid such charges undercutting the film with wonderfully wry humour and lines of dialogue full of double meanings.

As always the Coen brothers’ casting is impeccable. Present and correct are many of their preferred leading players and character actors (in addition to those mentioned above are Scarlett Johansson, playing a musical protege whom Crane idolises, and Jon Polito, playing a ‘pansy’ whose come on Crane rejects). Thornton’s key performance, however, is nothing short of perfection. Playing the emotionally-retarded Crane, he brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘poker-faced’, and yet manages to invoke such pathos as to make grown men weep. (Miles Fielder)

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COMEDY LEGALLY BLONDE (12) 97 mins 0..

Apart from her yellow locks. Legal/y Blonde's star Reese Witherspoon has two things going for her: genuine screen presence and an unerring ability to pick prime roles in above average films (from Cruel Intentions to P/easantvr’l/e). That said. Legally Blonde supplies Witherspoon with a great role in Beverly Hills high school sweetheart Elle Woods. but the film itself fails to live up to its central character.

Elle is a natural blonde (for her an all-important distinction). her favourite COIOur is pink and her answer to the few woes life holds for her is to get a beauty makeover. She's president of her sorority. was runner up for the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest and had the honour of appearing in a Ricky Martin video. She has rich Californian parents and a steady boyfriend. Warner. who's destined for great things studying law at Harvard. Elle's life is picture

28 THE LIST 18 Octl Nov .7001

perfect. until her beau breaks off their relationship in order to devote himself to law. and. as it turns out. Vivian Kensmgton. However. Elle isn't the hopelessly (ti/7y hlonde Warner thinks she is. So no-one's more surprised than he when the ever— resourceful Elle passes an entrance exam (and gets ‘a Coppola' to direct her college admission videot. quits the West Coast and enrols herself at Harvard with the express intention of Winning back Warner. But back East Elle finds herself to he a fish out of water: a class dryide between new money and old money now apparent. the popular high school beauty becomes the subject of snobbish derision. Legal/y B/onde is adapted by screenwriters Karen McCullah um and Kirtsen Smith (/0 things / Hate About You) from Arnanda Brown's unpublished novel drawrng on her experiences as a blonde attending Stanford l aw School. Brown describes her novel as an anthror)ological study of the ‘law student species. By

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Not up to Witherspoon’s

talent contrast. I ut.‘ and S'Ni“; fifll'tktfllplét‘, forust-s (in 3!» ‘clueless' rtature at f Tlte ‘.‘.'<v nir. and resorts to a Ili?t}l“l. (tortxtrntional narrattxv attr‘of honesty and ir‘trt-(rnt‘. .'.?l"t~"tl3'1i~ day lllllf3./"l;,il‘. fa‘twn" ;i.‘:\.: the bite of other tut-r1 stats-2:1 v... "t as f ferrtiorl. itl‘(‘lllf:l ‘; fiit‘tl""rl \Nitlierspoort, 'rttit on..- .'."H\ "t “.w.) up to the actor's intrirtrr’six-n talents. ilvlrles. l :elrl-r-r- I (Forte/(ll ’(?’t‘<'f.‘{(‘ f'o'“ r" .‘<‘


mama’s SWEETHEARTS (12) 103 mins 00

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A stinker