xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The last forty minutes of the movie do come together in a pretty diverting way.
The Coen Brothers' ''The Man Who Wasn't There'' is shot in black-and-white so elegantly, it reminds us of a 1940s station wagon -- chrome, wood, leather and steel all burnished to a contented glow. Its star performance by Billy Bob Thornton is a study in sad-eyed, mournful chain-smoking, the portrait of a man so trapped by life he wants to scream.
The plot is one of those film noir twisters made of gin and adultery, where the right man is convicted of the wrong crime. The look, feel and ingenuity of this film are so lovingly modulated you wonder if anyone else could have done it better than the Coens.
Probably not. And yet, and yet--for a movie about crime, it proceeds at such a leisurely pace. The first time I saw it, at Cannes, I emerged into the sunlight to find Michel Ciment, the influential French critic, who observed sadly, ''A 90-minute film that plays for two hours.'' Now I have seen it again, and I admire its virtues so much I am about ready to forgive its flow. Yes, it has a deliberate step--but is that entirely a fault of the film, or is it forced by the personality of Ed Crane (Thornton), the small-town barber who narrates it? He is not a swift man, and we get the impression that the crucial decisions in his life--his job, his marriage--were made by default. He has the second chair in a two-barber shop, next to his talkative brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco). He spends most of his waking hours cutting hair and smoking, the cigarette dangling from his lips as he leans over his clients. (This is exactly right; the movie remembers a time in America when everyone seemed to smoke all the time, and I cannot think of Darrel Martin, the barber on Main Street in Urbana, without remembering the smoke that coiled from his Camel into my eyes during every haircut.) Ed Crane has the expression of a man stunned speechless by something somebody else has just said. He is married to Doris (Frances McDormand), who is the bookkeeper down at Nirdlinger's Department Store.
She works for Big Dave (James Gandolfini), and when Dave and his wife come over to dinner, Doris and Dave laugh at all the same things while Ed and Dave's wife stare into thin air. Ed thinks his wife may be having an affair. He handles this situation, as he handles most social situations, by smoking.