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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Man Who Wasn't There

Submitted by on March 5, 2007 – 5:46 AMNo Comment

Nice little movie, lovely to look at, and typical of the Coens in that you don't know for sure what to take from it, but you don't mind that much. Thornton is excellent; the writing in his narration is so strong and spare. I just really liked it. Oh, one other thing. A reader wrote in recently to ask how I could say that an actor is very talented but doesn't have much range. I don't remember where I made that comment, but it's something I've said before, so I'll try to explain, and I'll use James Gandolfini as an example because his performance in this film is perfect as an illustration. I've got two definitions of range. The first is the range of roles that an actor can play believably. The second is the range of emotions that an actor can convey believably. In my comments on movies, when I use the word "range," I usually mean the first one, and Gandolfini's range in that sense is pretty narrow. The Sopranos, The Last Castle, Big Dave in this one — it's more or less the same guy. But Gandolfini's emotional range is very impressive; within a role, he can give a lot of play. William Fichtner is another example of this type. The flip side of that equation is…let's go with Tom Cruise. He's believable as a sensitive hero, he's believable as Action Guy, he's believable as a Tony Robbins-esque dickwad, but he's really only got the three facial expressions. Ditto Harrison Ford. Cast those guys as anything you like, and they'll do pretty much the same workaday job for any role. Gandolfini is the inverse; you can't cast him in as many things, but he'll own anything you give him to do.

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