The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), Cert 15.

Director - Joel Coen.

Writers - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen.

Starring - Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, Tony Shalhoub, Jon Polito & James Gandolfini.


Premise - It's late 40's America and a barber (Billy Bob Thornton) has the opportunity to invest in a dry cleaning business. To get the cash he blackmails his wife's (Frances McDormand) lover (James Gandolfini). However the plan goes horribly wrong and a bizarre chain of events begins.

There are certain things you expect when you sit down to watch a Coen brother's movie. You expect a slightly askew view of the world. You expect a glorious looking movie. You expect outstanding performances form the actors. You expect a bizarre, quirky storyline. Most of all however you expect a bloody good film.

The Man Who Wasn't There delivers on all the above criteria, almost. For whilst it is a very good film, it's not the best work the Coens have done.

I'll come to my (admittedly few) problems with the film later. I'll deal with the many good things that the movie offers first.

Billy Bob Thornton is wonderful here. I've never really been sold on him as an actor, but he pulls off a masterful performance here. His performance as Ed Crane makes you watch the screen, he commands you to watch. His eyes drill right through you and you can't look away.

He is a chain smoking barber who dreams of becoming a dry cleaner (there's something fundamentally wrong about that). He very rarely speaks and moans about people that cannot stop talking. Yet ironically, it is his continuos voice-over that drives the narrative of the film.

It's a wonderful performance that is one of many in this film. The supporting cast are all on top form. The ever reliable (and Coen brother mainstay) Frances McDormand as Crane's cheating wife. James (Tony Soprano) Gandolfini as philandering department store owner 'Big Dave'. Michael Badalucco as Ed's motor mouth step brother. I could go right down the cast list, suffice to say that the Coen brothers seem to be able to pry the best out of actors.

The Coen's have crafted on hell of a good looking film here. Filmed in colour and then converted to black and white, the process gives the film a depth that is simply stunning. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has worked wonders. The lighting brings every frame alive. Every nook and cranny on Billy Bob Thorntons craggy face is explored and adds to his character ten fold. It is indeed a gorgeous piece of cinema.

The world that the Coens have created is full of their usual quirky touches. Barbers long to be Dry Cleaners and the Roswell landings are thrown into the mix. The film has a nice dry wit about it and is often very funny.

So what was my problem with the film you ask?

Well, as much as I liked the film I just didn't connect with the story in the same way as I had with other Coen brother movies. That's not to say I wasn't interested throughout. I just felt the story wasn't as strong as say 'The Big Lebowski', 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' or especially 'Fargo'. I also didn't think the subplot with the young girl and the piano teacher worked very well. It seemed 'tacked on' and for me didn't fit to well with the rest of the film.

Minor quibbles yes, but they marred in my mind what should have been a 5/5 movie. As it stands The Man Who Wasn't There is a very good film that just falls short of the high standard that the Coen brothers have made for themselves.


8/10 for The Man Who Wasn't There.

Poster Quote - The man who was almost there.