The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
  • Time: 116 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama
  • Director: Joel Coen
  • Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins


1949, Santa Rosa, California. A laconic, chain-smoking barber with fallen arches tells a story of a man trying to escape a humdrum life. It’s a tale of suspected adultery, blackmail, foul play, death, Sacramento city slickers, racial slurs, invented war heroics, shaved legs, a gamine piano player, aliens, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Ed Crane cuts hair in his in-law’s shop; his wife drinks and may be having an affair with her boss, Big Dave, who has $10,000 to invest in a second department store. Ed gets wind of a chance to make money in dry cleaning. Blackmail and investment are his opportunity to be more than a man no one notices. Settle in the chair and listen.

One comment

  • “The Man Who Wasn’t There” is like a beautiful porcelain doll you are not allowed to touch. It’s nice to look at, but you can’t have any fun with it.

    Like most Cohen brothers movies, this movie is smart, stylish, filled with striking imagery and clever performances and nothing goes quite the way you expect. Like many Cohen brothers movies, it’s also not that overtly entertaining. The Man Who Wasn’t There is a good demonstration of the difference between brilliant filmmakers like the Cohen brothers and brilliant filmmakers like Stephen Spielberg. The latter are always trying to entertain the audience. The former only try to entertain themselves. Every so often, a Cohen brothers movie will resonate with a broader audience but, usually, their storytelling is something you can admire and appreciate more than you enjoy.

    That’s the case with this film. There’s some crackerjack work done by this cast, with Billy Bob Thornton making even the narratively static Ed an interesting presence. The camera work proves again that a well lit black and white movie looks a lot better than a color film. The direction balances a leisurely, mesmerizing pace with an awful lot of activity. There’re even a few touches of the Cohen brother’s trademarked oddness.

    In the end, though, this remains a movie for folks who like watching the Cohens entertain themselves. There’s a passivity and distance to the story that may have been a deliberate creative choice, but it’s still unappealing. You never know where the film is going, but you never care where it ends up.

    If you’re a Cohen brothers fan, you’ve probably already seen The Man Who Wasn’t There. If you’re not, I don’t think watching this movie will turn you into one.

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