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The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)


Average Rating: 7.1/10
Reviews Counted: 155
Fresh: 125 | Rotten: 30

Critics Consensus: Stylish but emotionally distant, The Man Who Wasn't There is a clever tribute to the film noir genre.

Average Rating: 6.7/10
Critic Reviews: 35
Fresh: 25 | Rotten: 10

Critics Consensus: Stylish but emotionally distant, The Man Who Wasn't There is a clever tribute to the film noir genre.


Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 40,117



Movie Info

In the summer of 1949, a tale of passion, crime and punishment... Ed Crane is a barber in a small northern California town. Ed is dissatisfied with his life, but his wife Doris' infidelity presents Ed with an opportunity for blackmail that he thinks will help him to change it. However, Ed's scheme unravels and lays bare even darker secrets before leading to murder...

R (for a scene of violence)
Drama , Romance , Comedy
Directed By:
Written By:
Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
In Theaters:
Apr 16, 2002
Box Office:
USA Films - Official Site



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Critic Reviews for The Man Who Wasn't There

All Critics (157) | Top Critics (35) | Fresh (125) | Rotten (30) | DVD (26)

Affectlessness is not a quality much prized in movie protagonists, but Billy Bob Thornton, that splendid actor, does it perfectly as Ed Crane.

Full Review… | October 13, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

The film holds the interest, to be sure, but more due to the sure sense of craft and precise effect that one expects from the Coens than from genuine involvement in the story.

Full Review… | November 7, 2007
Top Critic

Joel and Ethan Coen stay true to their bent for dense heroes and neonoir, and to their unshakable conviction that life usually turns out to be splendidly horrific.

Full Review… | November 7, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

In this the Coens' sly script is helped no end by Billy Bob Thornton's supremely eloquent performance as the taciturn tonsor, lent terrific support from Frances McDormand as the wife.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Despite the movie's humor and sense of irony, it takes on a sense of somberness as it progresses.

Full Review… | July 21, 2005
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic

The Coens have resurrected a hardscrabble California of wooden porches and gravel driveways, of rolling, oak-wreathed hills and one-lane roads, and of a restless people whose meager dreams are wrecked the moment money, sex or a bottle get in the way.

Full Review… | September 30, 2002
L.A. Weekly
Top Critic

Ed's problem isn't so much that he isn't there but that, when you finally catch a glimpse of him, there's no way to be sure exactly what has caught your gaze.

Full Review… | October 14, 2011
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

This stylized black and white noir by the Joel and Ethan Coen is meticulously mounted but too emotionally detached and only sporadically engaging.

Full Review… | April 1, 2011

Some mature themes--best for older teens.

Full Review… | December 28, 2010
Common Sense Media

Few outside of Coen cliques paid this nihilistic neo-noir much attention. Perhaps that's its wryest, slyest punchline: To watch Ed Crane is to largely forget him and, upon returning to him, revisit the pleasure of meeting him for the first time.

Full Review… | September 19, 2010

As good a film as I've seen this year.

Full Review… | November 7, 2007
Observer [UK]

Thornton does wonders within the tabula rasa of words and gestures he's limited to.

Full Review… | September 27, 2007

Mr. Shaloub injects some much needed energy into the film which otherwise feels long at two hours.

Full Review… | July 14, 2007
Big Picture Big Sound

Slowly paced for a thriller and with a hero many will find off-putting, this is nevertheless a gripping, unusual and challenging work from the most consistently brilliant filmmakers of the last decade.

Full Review… | December 30, 2006
Empire Magazine

It's perfectly, elegantly reticent about its subject matter, as suits both the theme and the tradition of film noir (a type of filmmaking that thrives on unstated motives).

March 3, 2005
The Nation

You've heard of a 'vacant stare'; now you know what it's like for the person staring.

December 6, 2004
Looking Closer

Thornton's ultra low key performance is a plus, as is the effectively moody, black and white cinematography.

Full Review… | October 30, 2004
Kansas City Kansan

Once again, Ethan and Joel Coen have twisted a film genre into something new.

Full Review… | June 23, 2004

Joel and Ethan Coen have created an excellent film that intelligent audiences should really appreciate.

Full Review… | February 24, 2004

A perfectly executed illustration of what is not, quite, great about the Coen brothers, which is a kind of grandstanding, and another kind of weirdly alienating insincerity.

Full Review… | October 19, 2003
Daily Telegraph

Makes people wish they could still light up in cinemas. It might not be the Coens at their best, but they still blow smoke in the faces of all the competition.

Full Review… | May 22, 2003

Audience Reviews for The Man Who Wasn't There

The Coens capture the look and feel of not only film noir, but that era (late 1940s) as a whole, perfectly with this film. Billy Bob Thornton is great as the laconic, chain-smoking barber Ed Crane, who doesn't have a whole lot to say, and doesn't really do much either.

To break out of his achingly dull life Ed decides to get involved with a businessman trying to start up a dry cleaning business. To get the money for financing, Ed blackmails his wife's boss who is having an affair with her. Of course, since this is both a noir and a Coen Brothers film, not all goes according to plan, and nothing is really quite as it seems.

This isn't the best film from the Coens, but it's still really good. It's by far their most serious work, but even then, there's still a shred of their trademark dry, dark humor and some really odd characters and weird things going on, mostly a motif involving flying saucers. Heck, even Ed himself is very much an alien with how he really doesn't seem to fit into the world.

The most striking thing about this film is definitely the look. Filmed in color, but printed in black and white, this is immediately their most strikingly gorgeous work from a visual standpoint. Unlike some modern films done in black and white, this actually does look and feel like a legit 40s film. It's an impressive job that was done by the production designer, costume designer, and the venerable director of photography Roger Deakins.

I could stare at this film all day and never tire of the great images it has to offer.

Give this one a shot. It's slow, odd, and deliberate, but a real underrated gem worth looking at. The performances are great, the music is wonderful, and it's just a great love letter to classic noir. Also, the commentary track is amazingly entertaining and funny in its own right.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer


A beautiful minor key film. The inclusion of some of Beethoven's most beautiful sonatas into this noir really works. Thornton and McDormand are fantastic plus a whole host of supporting roles that are hilarious.

Graham Jones
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer


Definitely the Coens' greatest achievement. right after Blood Simple, Millers Crossing, Raising Arizona, No Country for Old Men, the Big Lebowski, Fargo and O' Brother, Where Art Thou.

Coxxie Mild Sauce

Super Reviewer

The Coen brothers stylish noir looks as cool as it gets, but is it entertaining enough? No. No thrills, not too much suspense, but hell, no wonder Roger Deakens got the Acamedy Award nomination for this one. Awesome cinematography.

Kase Vollebregt
Kase Vollebregt

Super Reviewer

The Man Who Wasn't There Quotes

Freddy Riedenschneider: I litigate, I don't capitulate.
– Submitted by Frances H (13 months ago)
Freddy Riedenschneider: The more you look, the less you see.
– Submitted by Sebas C (2 years ago)
Carcanogues: Some day I think she will make very good typist.
– Submitted by Paolo P (3 years ago)
Ed Crane: Me, I don't talk much... I just cut the hair.
– Submitted by Sam B (3 years ago)

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