The Man Who Wasn't There Reviews

Page 1 of 89
cosmo313
Super Reviewer
July 2, 2006
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.
Super Reviewer
½ March 26, 2012
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.
Super Reviewer
½ June 5, 2009
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.
Super Reviewer
March 12, 2011
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.
sanjurosamurai
Super Reviewer
January 25, 2007
very well written and expertly crafted, the film lacks substance, a surprise for a coen film, but the cinematography was excellent and the narration alone was interesting enough to make for a good film. it really says something for the coens when a film this good is one of their bottom films.
Super Reviewer
½ February 25, 2010
A passable outing by the Coen brothers that borders on the bland. The style is noir, sure, but the story is not - so unfortunately, in places, all you're left with is uninspiring black and white. Part of me thinks they only chose black and white to help us differentiate between this film and the very similar story they told in Fargo. But, in the plus column are Frances McDormand - does she work for anyone else anymore? I wouldn't! - and Billy Bob Thornton's narration. Monotone actually worked.

I watched this not long after reading Ethan Coen's collection of short stories (Gates of Eden, 1998), and had this been in there, it would've been the best of the forgettable lot, but not nearly enough to save it. I give it two-and-a-half stars, which equal to one giant mmmeh.
Super Reviewer
February 23, 2010
Maybe it's just the fact that it's the plot is so flashy or the fact that it's shot so well, but this is really just undeniably amazing to watch. I think it's the best that Billy Bob Thorton has ever been, I love him in it. Even though it's a throwback to Noir, it feels like you got something new with this. Again I have to mention the cinematography because it is just flawless. This is probably the best and true example of Neo-Noir because it uses all of the old devices. The voice-over, double crossing characters, sex and morality is all there. Joel Coen directed a masterpiece and a true ode to the genre.
Super Reviewer
½ September 3, 2009
The Coen's most beautifully directed film, hands down. The smooth black and white finish is sublime. Thornton is fantastic, in what I believe to be his best role to date (Just beating his character in sling blade). The whole cast are on top form and for me, this has my favourite Coen film ending.
skactopus
Super Reviewer
November 2, 2008
So, it seems the Coens can't always be on top of their game. The Man Who Wasn't There is not an awful movie because it is better than your average flick, but for a Coen's film, it is a tad disappointing.Shot entirely in black and white, which matches the the late 1940s setting, The Man Who Wasn't There takes some time to develop. This isn't the problem. The problem comes after the story develops. It is a good ride for the first hour, but there is a slow and steady decline the rest of the way through. The film seems to drag on and on and it keeps going until just under the 2-hour mark.The film noir style also plays a big part of this picture. Once again this is fitting with the setting and the black and white visuals. Billy Bob Thornton does match well with this style of film, but film noir doesn't exactly translate into exciting. I'm not saying that it can't be done. It just isn't done here.As usual, the acting is on the money. Billy Bob Thornton is able to carry his nonchalant character to the very end. Frances McDormand finds herself in yet another Coen's production and Tony Shaloub ends up being the most charismatic and entertaining character of the movie. Remember John Turturro's role in The Big Lebowski or Woody Harrelson's role in No Country for Old Men? That is what Scarlett Johansson's role is here. It is sort of off to the side in a mini-side story.This may not be the strongest film from the Coens, but you will get a kick out of it if you enjoy film noir.
Super Reviewer
November 5, 2006
When I saw The Man Who Wasn't There in the theater I was incredibly disappointed. Not enough of the Coens' trademarked weirdness and way too much wayward boredom. Since 2001 I've grown a whole new appreciation for film noir (which The Man Who Wasn't There pays homage to almost perfectly) and thought I might have a whole different perspective on the film.

Unfortunately not.

The Man Who Wasn't There bored me to tears just as badly as it did in its initial run I'm sorry to say. The story is still too quiet and subdued for me to see how anyone can possibly be interested in it, but Roger Deakins' photography is nothing short of brilliant and breathtaking.
Super Reviewer
½ September 1, 2008
Not especially deep or film noir-y. I don't dig the Coen Brothers' stylistic torpidity.
Super Reviewer
July 24, 2007
Slow, odd and morose neo noir, with a unusually quiet, restrained but remarkable performance by Billy Bob Thornton. Roger Deakins' cinematography, although too flashy for my taste (in the context of the story) is a undeniably strong point.
Super Reviewer
April 14, 2007
Ed Crane: Me, I don't talk much... I just cut the hair

A film done in the style of noir about a Barber, it's from the Coen Brothers and it stars Billy Bob Thorton, what's not to like.

The whole movie is played throughout with narration by Billy Bob, who talks and talks about life basically.

A blackmailing plot ensues, involving Frances McDormand as the barber's wife, and James Gandolfini as her boss. This prompts other events to turn up in the story, including the appearance of Tony Shalhoub as a hot shot lawyer.

Reidenschneider: You say he was being blackmailed, by who? You don't know. For having an affair, with who? You don't know. Did anyone else know about it? Probably not, you don't know.

Another subplot also emerges, that features Scarlett Johansson as a local girl with talent at the piano.

Ed Crane: Time slows down right before an accident, and I had time to think about things. I thought about what an undertaker had told me once - that your hair keeps growing, for a while anyway, after you die, and then it stops. I thought, "What keeps it growing? Is it like a plant in soil? What goes out of the soil? The soul? And when does the hair realize that it's gone?"

The movie looks great, capturing the time of the 1940s, shown in black and white. Other little Coenisms show up including the casting and of course the dialog, making this an entertaining noir about a simple man.

Ed Crane: He told them to look not at the facts, but at the meaning of the facts. Then he said the facts had no meaning.
garyX
Super Reviewer
March 1, 2007
Another film noir homage from the Coen brothers, The Man Who Wasn't There is actually far more in the tradition of the old school than many of their others. Beautifully shot in black and white it also features prominent narration from a rather emotionless Billy Bob Thornton, as well as the usual twists and turns in plot and references to science and pop culture. Thornton gives a typically solid performance as a small town barber who, upon discovering his wife is having an affair with her boss (Frances McDormand and James Gandolfini respectively) decides to gamble all on the mundane (he is the "modern man" after all...) and blackmail him for $10000 to invest in a dry cleaning business. He is discovered however, setting in motion a series of events that causes his life to unravel. It's not the best of the Coen's work, but is still an extremely well made, well shot and cleverly written film, perfectly played by a great ensemble cast. Low key, but haunting.
gor41
Super Reviewer
August 23, 2007
Laconic Billy Bob drifts through this ultra stylised film noir which looks breathtaking but has little to add to the genre.
Super Reviewer
½ January 13, 2008
The movie was well made. It looked great in black and white and I thought the mood of the film was excellent.
The story was a little slow for me here and there. I liked most of the characters but it seemed to be all over the place. There were whole parts of the story that I don't think served the plot at all.
It is your usual Coen brothers movie but they have done better.
rubystevens
Super Reviewer
November 20, 2007
atmospheric black and white noir tribute with a wonderfully subdued performance from billy bob thornton. nice turn by tony shalhoub as a scheming lawyer and young scarlett johansson looks very cute
Super Reviewer
November 3, 2007
Beautiful to look at, but hard to comprehend.
puffchunk
Super Reviewer
October 4, 2007
James Gandolfini is a beast. Great stuff, but not the best Coen Bros. film to date.
Super Reviewer
½ May 8, 2007
Oh, it's a nicely done noir. A fine little tribute to black and white crime films of decades passed. The problem is that The Man Who Wasn't There simply isn't original enough to become a truly excellent movie.

Don't get me wrong - this movie is, in some regards, phenomenal. The performances are across-the-board excellent, and the cinematography is to die for. The decision to make this movie black and white gives it so much elegance and atmosphere that it found itself up for a Best Cinematography award at the Oscars. The dialogue is generally pretty good too, keeping the voices from becoming analogous and giving each character a distinctive noir aura.

The plot is just not interesting enough to allow this film to ascend to the true noir greats. Extortion, blackmail, murder. Typical noir tropes presented with very few frills. That's all well and good, but a two-hour character study only works very rarely, and The Man Who Wasn't There would have been a disaster if the plot was any less interesting. To put it in perspective, a single isolated (and ultimately useless) scene about one character's supposed UFO sighting is the most interesting scene in the film, just because it's DIFFERENT. It breaks the tedium of the material, the sameness. It's too bad we never see this character again. To its credit, the movie also has a very good ending, so at least the ride feels worth it. It's just not very memorable.
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