Set in a sleepy Northern California town in the 1940s, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen's The Man Who Wasn't There stars Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane, a humble barber who suspects his hard-hearted and hard-drinking wife Doris (Frances McDormand) of having an affair with her boss (James Gandolfini). When a jocular stranger (Jon Polito) breezes into town hinting at the fortune to be made investing in an outlandish-sounding new invention called dry cleaning, Ed hatches a blackmail scheme he hopes will make him rich and get him some revenge at the same time. His plan goes horribly awry when he accidentally commits a murder for which Doris ends up being blamed, landing her in the slammer and Ed at the mercy of blowhard big-city lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub). Filmed in black-and-white by three-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, The Man Who Wasn't There was inspired by the seedy crime novels of James M. Cain, putting a distinctly Coen brothers' spin on the film noir tradition. Though spiked with their characteristic humor, its moody atmosphere hearkens back to the darker moments of Blood Simple and Fargo -- a marked departure from the high-spirited slapstick of O Brother Where Art Thou.~Tom Vick
Making The Man Who Wasn't There
Interview with Cinematographer Roger Deakins
Feature Commentary by Billy Bob Thornton and Joel and Ethan Coen
This is a 2001 release from the Coen Bros. Filmed entirely in B & W, it very much has the film noir feel of such films in the 50's.
I would recommend this to a friend
Rated 5 out of 5 stars
One of the best Coen Brothers projects
The Man Who Wasn't There, like many of the Coen Brothers' works is unfortunately overshadowed by some of their better known projects, such as Fargo and No Country for Old Men. That's not to say that those films are in any way beneath this one, but rather a critique on how many people are ignorant of the existence of this neo-noir masterpiece.
This is the tale of Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), a small-town barber that no one notices and no one cares about, including his wife Doris (Frances McDormand) who is having an affair with her boss, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). Ed is tired of being a nobody, and just as he is in the midst of a crisis of identity in regards to how he'll get out of his personal predicament, he meets a traveler (Jon Polito, who is always FANTASTIC in Coen films) who tells him that he's getting himself set up in a new-fangled trend called "dry cleaning", and that if Ed can get him a couple grand, they can go into business together. Luckily for Ed, Big Dave owns a series of big chain stores, and thus by blackmailing him about his affair with Ed's wife, he hopes to get the money he needs to get out of his rut.
Naturally, since this is a Coen Brothers' film, everything goes horribly wrong, and bad things ensue for all concerned.
This film is delightful in so many ways. The actors and characters are brilliant, especially the boisterously charismatic Gandolfini, who gives you no doubt as to why Ed's wife prefers him to her nobody of a husband. The show-stealer, however is Tony Shaloub, as big-time lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider, whose legal savvy is the major source of the film's laughs. He's so good at what he's doing that you honestly forget how miserable everything around him in the film has become by the time he comes in. It's worth seeing for him alone.
Roger Deakins's cinematography is a highlight of the film, as is always the case with his work with the Coens. His manipulation of the black and white in this film is nothing short of art, and you really can't bring yourself to wish the film was in color at any point that you're watching this.
Neo-noir is one of my favorite genres, and this is a vibrant and important example of it. It's well-written in every sense of the term, features a sort of undetached nihilst view of the 50's, and quite simply shows you a man who has renounced his ordinary life, but just can't get over the bumps in the road to break his bonds.
This is great stuff. If you love the Coens, you should really have seen this by now, and if you're not familiar with their work, this is a great place to start.