No role too small for thesp that communicates without words

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PROS: Role is a far cry from her previous Oscar work.

CONS: Will her part be considered too small?

In “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” Frances McDormand plays Doris, the woman married to that metaphorically absent title character.

In real life, she’s married to the director of the film, Joel Coen, who guided her to an Oscar for her performance as pregnant policewoman Marge Gunderson in “Fargo.”

But it would be wrong to assume that she is drawn to roles only because her husband, along with his brother Ethan, has written them, according to “Man Who Wasn’t There” co-producer John Cameron.

“There have been other roles that she hasn’t done even though they were Coen Brothers projects,” says Cameron, who runs the Coens’ production company. “She’s very particular about the parts that she plays and very judicious in her choices, which is obvious from her work.”

It could certainly be argued that McDormand has the best taste for material in the business, based on her selection of smallish roles in smallish films that have made big impressions on the critics.

She appeared in two of the most acclaimed pics of 2000, “Almost Famous” and “Wonder Boys,” earning an Oscar nod for the former. (She was first nominated for her perf in Alan Parker’s 1988 drama “Mississippi Burning.”)

“I don’t think the screen time or the size of the role has any determining factor for Fran in terms of whether it’s a worthwhile role for her to take or not,” Cameron says.

In her latest role, she doesn’t have a lot to say, but that certainly doesn’t mean she’s not communicating. The richest moments in the film come when Doris and her husband, played by Billy Bob Thornton, just look at each other, their gazes fraught with betrayal and guilt.

In the silent expressions can be found a host of emotions, some of them contradicting each other.

“It’s an incredibly accomplished performance in that what’s happening with her is not covered in the dialogue,” Cameron says. “What Fran manages to do is make it entirely clear, in every frame, what’s going on with this conflicted, complicated woman. And she makes it all seem effortless.”

HITS: If Thornton gets a nom for “Monster’s Ball” and not “Man,” her chances improve considerably.

MISSES: Role might be too small.

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