Life can be a cockeyed carnival of camaraderie, as in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, or, in the Coens’ next film, a solipsist’s lament. Married people can be alone too, even in late-40s California (42-minute mark). Look at the Cranes: Ed (Billy Bob Thornton), the Mr. Cellophane of the title, and his wife Doris (Frances McDormand).
Ed’s all quiet desperation, Doris a bustling ball of deceit. Her affair with her boss (James Gandolfini, in possibly his only appearance wearing a kitchen apron) is just one of the things in Ed’s life to go fatally wrong in this most expert of the Cain-inspiring-Coen film noirs. A bungled business deal, a murder rap and the attentions of a sultry teenager (Scarlett Johansson) lead Ed to muse that “life has dealt me some bum cards. Or maybe I didn’t play them right.” But the Coens do. They lay out their story in pearly, sepulchral black-and-white, infuse the dialogue with mordant humor and somehow blend those two postwar innovations, UFO mania and dry cleaning.