The Man Who Wasn't There

2001

The Man Who Wasn't There

Critics Consensus

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

81%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 157

85%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 41,207
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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...

Cast

Scarlett Johansson
as Birdy Abundas
Katherine Borowitz
as Ann Nirdlinger
Jon Polito
as Creighton Toliver
Richard Jenkins
as Walter Abundas
Tony Shalhoub
as Freddy Riedenschneider
Gregg Binkley
as The New Man
Alan Fudge
as Diedrickson
Adam Alexi-Malle
as Carcanogues
Ted Rooney
as Bingo Caller
Abraham Benrubi
as Young Man
E.J. Callahan
as Customer
Brooke Smith
as Sobbing Prisoner
Ron Ross
as Banker
Jon Donnelly
as Gatto Eater
Dan Martin
as Bailiff
Tom Dahlgren
as Judge No. 1
Booth Colman
as Judge No. 2
Stanley DeSantis
as New Man's Customer
Peter Siragusa
as Bartender
Christopher McDonald
as Macadam Salesman
Rick Scarry
as District Attorney
George Ives
as Lloyd Garroway
Devin Cole Borisoff
as Swimming Boy
Mary Bogue
as Prisoner Visitor
Don Donati
as Pie Contest Timer
Arthur Reeves
as Flophouse Clerk
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News & Interviews for The Man Who Wasn't There

Critic Reviews for The Man Who Wasn't There

All Critics (157) | Top Critics (37) | Fresh (127) | Rotten (30)

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

    Oct 13, 2009 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Nov 7, 2007

    Todd McCarthy

    Variety
    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.

    Nov 7, 2007 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Despite the movie's humor and sense of irony, it takes on a sense of somberness as it progresses.

    Jul 21, 2005 | Rating: A
  • 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.

    Sep 30, 2002 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Man Who Wasn't There

  • May 10, 2016
    One of the best commentaries I've seen on the murky condition of what can be deemed as modern man, Thornton (a revelation) plays a guy who is so removed from society, from even himself, that he is, in effect, only a spectator in his very own life. (But what's the point of that? What does that accomplish?) Everyone does a bang-up job, and this is eye opening filmmaking at it's best. Perhaps the best by the Coen Bros.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Jun 06, 2014
    "We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when, although I wasn't there". There is a point in which David Bowie, of course, references the song's title, "The Man Who Sold the World", but I felt that line from the song fit better, and I wouldn't want to make too much a stretch with the title references, because, come on, I'm not the Coen brothers. The original film to take this title is supposed to be quite the eccentric comedy, about an invisible government bureaucrat, but don't go expecting this to be a remake, even though, at the time of this film's release, we were used to the Coen brothers as comedic filmmakers. Yeah, by no means is this film a comedy, although I don't know if you can take all that seriously a film which is about the invention of dry cleaning, especially seeing as how you can't help but think about something as silly as "The Hudsucker Proxy" when you think about the Coens making up the origin of a popular product that emerged in the mid-20th century. Mind you, "The Hudsucker Proxy" didn't really feature alcoholism, adultery, blackmail, murder and capital punishment, but still, even though a Coen comedy is typically pretty sharp, everyone's favorite filmmaking duo is a little hard to take seriously after something like "The Big Lebowski". Hey, maybe they should stick with comedies, because this is their first bona fide noir since "Blood Simple", which was boring enough when it was in color and not set during the ever so exciting decade of the 1940s. Well, that was the Coens' first film, and they've become much better dramatic filmmakers sense then, as this film will most certainly tell you, at least to a certain extent. Around this time frame, the Coens began to characterize their films with convolutedly overblown narratives, and while it ironically took this major dramatic turn to settle down on the layers, there are still many plot aspects, and when they shift, all too often, they jar, resulting in an inconsistency to focus which derives from inconsistency in the fleshing out of certain plot layers. As with many a traditional noir, this film's focus on its protagonist is more prominent than it is in the usual drama, and that would be fine if the Coens didn't get carried away with under-developing certain plot layers and characters, some of which are conceptually significant, while still taking time to drag. Undercooked and a little minimalist to begin with, the film, running just shy of two hours, still outstays its welcome, and while I've already implied that by accusing the narrative of being overblown with too much material to evenly focus upon, all of the bloating is still a serious detriment to pacing, exacerbated by the Coens' trademark thoughtfulness, which, upon running out of material, all but bores, and decidedly distances. When the Coens hit as directors, man, they sure do hit hard, but there's still something a little rusty about the talented filmmaking duo's dramatic storytelling abilities, something a little empty about the emotional resonance, whose bland limitations reflect a certain laziness about as much as a certain familiarity. I don't suppose the film is aggressively unrefreshing, and if it does fall into formula, it's often clearly on purpose, for the sake of paying tribute to noir roots, but this is no satire, thus, there's little to justify conventions whose being limited only makes the tropes all the more glaring, sort of staling the drama. The flaws of the film are subtle, but there is a number of them, and they're recurring, and considering that a lot of the strengths are themselves, high potential is well-challenged by shortcomings that prevent the final product from being as nearly biting as it could have been. With that said, while it's not as fun as some of the Coens' preceding efforts, it is a relatively high success as a major dramatic turn for the brothers, whose taste is even reflected in the film's musical value. With this film, the Coens allowed Carter Burwell to really flesh out his musical abilities for the first time since "Fargo", and he far from disappoints, for although Burwell's score is still a little unevenly played upon, it is consistently effective, with livelier moments that compliment the energy of the era portrayed in this period piece, and more subdued moments that are both beautiful and complimentary to the drama's resonance. Chris Gorak's art direction even does a lot to capture the heart of this drama, utilizing Dennis Gassner's production designs and Mary Zophres' costume designs in a manner which distinguishes the look of 1949 Northern California, further polished by noirsh cinematography that really allows Roger Deakins to play with coloration subtleties to a black-and-white palette, and to play with sparse lighting in a captivating fashion that is immersive in its selling much of the drama's depths. Everyone's trying to get a point across, and I understand and respect such ambition, because this film's story concept, while a little overblown and formulaic, is highly intriguing as a portrait on a quiet man struggling with intense internal conflicts that also threaten his peers which isn't afraid to grow progressively bleaker, and is done some justice by a script by the Coens that, while certainly not with the color or fluff that sharpened so much of the dialogue and humor of most of the Coens' preceding films, is still pretty sharp with its dialogue, and generally well-rounded in unevenly extensive characterization. Of course, what really sells the characters is their portrayers, as this is no cast of amateurs, and each one of them has his or her time to shine as dramatic talents, with James Gandolfini and Frances McDormand, for the limited time they're present, being impacting as people whose lives are threatened by dark secrets, whether they be true or not, while leading man Billy Bob Thornton plays his usual role, complete with a sobriety that particularly limits dramatic kick, but often uses that subtlety to subtly, but surely immerse you into the anxiety and quiet intensity of the Ed Crane character. The film focuses so intensely on Thornton, and it's debatable whether or not his abilities match those of his peers enough for the focus to be worthy, but there's no denying Thornton's abilities by their own right, as they help in driving the drama with a subtlety and grace that is also well-encompassed by the Coens' offscreen performance, as directors. Joel and Ethan Coen, by this time, had delivered on plenty of effective dramatic highlights in their direction of such films as the decent "Miller's Crossing" and "Fargo", and the almost outstandingly engrossing "Barton Fink", but they hadn't been dealt with subject matter this heavy since their debut, "Blood Simple", which, in my controversial opinion, fell flat as a display of rust on the Coens' dramatic storytelling that, with this film, isn't completely cleansed, but immensely more effective, because in spite of some emotional vacancy, the Coens' many haunting music plays and visuals reinforce a sense of taste to dramatic grace that, when combined with the tasteful thoughtfulness, thoroughly compels, maybe even penetrates. From the disturbing murder sequence, to a thought-provoking ending, There are moments in the film that are truly devastating as moving showcases of the Coens' abilities as biting dramatic storytellers, and were they a whole lot more consistent, and incorporated amidst a more tightly structured narrative, we would be looking at yet another strong Coen classic, one that would have more respectability than the simply super-fun "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", and would therefore stand up there with "Barton Fink", yet with all of that said, the final product compels enough to stand as a rewarding noir drama. Overall, focal inconsistencies thrive on some underdevelopment and some dragging, all behind a somewhat overblown narrative whose slow and formulaic interpretation leave much to be desired when it comes to the fulfillment of potential that is still done enough justice by hauntingly tasteful scoring, art direction and cinematography, and by clever scripting's, strong acting's and often biting direction's doing justice to intriguing, if not piercing dramatic subject matter to make the Coen brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There" a generally effective and ultimately rewarding dramatic revelation for a pair of esteemed and diverse filmmakers, and study on a man's internal struggles and how they impact those around him. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Aug 18, 2012
    Another great film by the Coen Brothers that made me an official fan. The Man Who Wasn't There brings the film noir genera to a great extent. But I actually don't think film noir should be a genera but a style. From the concept of positive and negative to the femme fatales. That's the thing I like the best about film noir the femme fatale. My favorite actress Scarlett Johansson is the femme fatale in this so I can't complain. Her role in this was minor but was an important part in bringing the film to a close. The writing was really good. You have to love the Coen's writing style. From dull humor to out of no where ending the film. I've noticed that it's easy to tell if the Coen brothers wrote it because all there films have the same writing style. This film especially is twisty in it's plot structure. It involves a case and criminal cases can be twist around. It's basically, this person did it, this person takes the blame, at the end the person that did commit the original crime gets caught committing another crime that he didn't do. I know it's weird so it fits the Coen's witty taste. The acting by Billy Bob Thornton was very memorable. He gave the character Ed Crane a dull and alienated image. Alienation is the main theme in the film. You can tell by his actions and dialogue. For example, Ed Crane is a barber and he mentions, why do people cut off there hair. It's almost as if he doesn't understand human nature. Towards the end he sees a UFO and nodes to it as if he knows them. As if they aren't aliens to him. The production values are acceptable. This is in black and white just like the classic film noir titles. I really liked the cinematography. Film noir has to have good cinematography otherwise the style doesn't work. Of course the direction by the Coens was fascinating. I really liked how they directed the murder scene. Once James Gandolfini's character went down I couldn't believe he kept bleeding. Although not really that original this is a great addition to the film noir style and a must for Coen fans.
    Eduardo T Super Reviewer
  • Jul 28, 2012
    The Man Who Wasn't There is filmed very well and the story is good on paper, but an emotional connection to the characters or the things that happen to them "wasn't there." The film gives off a good looking noir feel, as it is presented in black and white. It has fine performances, most notably from Billy Bob Thornton (whom I met in person a few months back) who plays a very quiet and concentrated man. He gets himself tangled up in a bloody mess and hires a lawyer to get him out of it. The film seemed particularly interesting in the beginning, when the Coen brothers introduce Thornton's character. Once Thornton gets tangled up in this bloody mess, it gets a whole lot less interesting while the opposite should have happened. The ending presents some very good themes and ideas, but I just wasn't engaged in the plot. I think the Coen brothers are very talented guys, but I really prefer their new films compared to their old. I wasn't crazy about Fargo, and I definitely wasn't crazy about this.
    Kevin M Super Reviewer

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