Cain and Very Able

Billy Bob doesn't say much, but he's the perfect Man for the Coens' con job

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.

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