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In the summer of 1949, quiet and introverted Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) continues to cut men’s hair as usual, in a small northern Californian town’s barber shop owned by his brother in law, Frank (Michael Badalucco). But beneath the pallid exterior of his life, passion, crime and punishment are waiting to change his life. His wife Doris (France McDormand) works at the local family owned department store, Nirdlingers, where she has an affair with Big Dave (James Gondolfini), Ann Nirdlinger’s (Katherine Borowitz) husband. When travelling conman Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito) hits town with a scam that appeals to Ed, a series of events are unleashed that culminate in death and retribution.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
American cinema is alive and well, brilliantly healthy in fact, if the Coen’s The Man Who Wasn’t There is a sample of it. The motor of the film is character, and they’ve chosen the toughest gig: a character who hardly has one. Ah, but so it seems. That’s the first secret. The second secret is that the character study is delivered in a casing of pure cinematic magic, which creates a world within which the Man Who Wasn’t There lives, along with his wife, his brother in law, the con man, etcetera. As the Coens say, black and white is a rich film medium; in this case, not only does it suit the theme and setting, it adds immensely to the atmospherics. Superbly shot by Roger Deakins (Oscar winning stuff), the film resonates in the memory with all its sights and sounds, with images that are like the work of well practiced artists: they are minimal but powerful. The casting is as perfect as Casablanca, and the script pings like crystal. Thank goodness, too, for the left swerve in the screenplay, which is a key to the entire jigsaw; all I’ll say is it’s true Coen stuff. This is a film in which all the elements come together – some perhaps by accident, driven by creative luck – but oh so well that it makes you love the movies all over again.

Review by Louise Keller:
What was it about those black and white thrillers from yesteryear that linger in our minds and tantalise our imagination in the darkest hours of night? Was it those long shadows, or star performances, or perhaps the strong narrative and characters that haunted us forever after? No doubt all these things played a part. It has been many years since we have been afforded the pleasure of experiencing such a film; it's a time warp to days gone by, when stars like Humphrey Bogart, Montgomery Clift and Fred MacMurray made their impact with films like The Maltese Falcon, A Place in the Sun and Double Indemnity. It is therefore such a pleasure to step into the world of The Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, a superb film noir with plenty of long shadows, strong narrative and haunting characters. The ingredients are blackmail, adultery and intrigue; the result is sensational! Billy Bob Thornton, cinema's chameleon, is the passive barber: his expressionless, soulful facial features are locked in our mind. Thornton inhabits the character completely, never revealing emotion and is like a puppet in the events that unfold. Frances McDormand's Doris is not so much a femme fatale, but a disillusioned victim who is not shy to exert her whims, but is guarded in what she is prepared to give. James Gandolfini works well as Big Dave, the man with the slimy smile who marries into the business, while the key support roles of Creighton Tolliver, the conman and Ed's brother Frank are solid with Michael Badalucco and Jon Polito at the helm. I love Tony Shalhoub's show pony lawyer, and the way his scenes are lit is sheer art. In fact the entire film is beautifully lit; Roger Deakin's cinematography simply sings. Take the scene when Ann Nirdlinger knocks on the door and reveals a past secret. There she is, in close up, with a hat and veil – the spots on the veil move, and the light on the veil is almost ethereal. But there are many scenes like that, like the one when the medical examiner takes Ed for a glass of rye (and coffee) at the bar. The bar is empty (except for one lone drinker at the end), but the shafts of light depict a mood, a solitary, reflective mood. It's a wonderful character driven tale – the Coen Brothers' script is compelling and concise, Carter Burwell's score subliminal, while Beethoven's haunting sonata resonates throughout and stays with us, as we leave the cinema. Who said film noir was at its best decades ago? The Man Who Wasn't There is film noir at its very best. Don't miss it.

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CAST: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, James Gondolfini, Katherine Borowitz, Jon Polito, Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins, Tony Shalhoub

PRODUCER: Ethan Coen


SCRIPT: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen


EDITOR: Roderick Jaynes, Tricia Cooke

MUSIC: Carter Burwell


RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2001


VIDEO RELEASE: November 20, 2002

Joel Coen - joint winner, Best Director, Cannes Film Festival, 2001
(with David Lynch, for Mulholland Drive)

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