A dark tale of infidelity and murder, crime and punishment. Set in a small northern California town of the late 40s, the film portrays Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), a barber dissatisfied with his life. His wife Doris (Frances McDormand) infidelity presents Ed with an opportunity for blackmail that he thinks will help him to change it. However, Eds scheme unravels and lays bare even darker secrets...
The Man Who Wasnt There is a 2001 British-American neo-noir crime film written, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Billy Bob Thornton stars in the title role. Also featured are Tony Shalhoub, Scarlett Johansson, James Gandolfini, and Coen regulars Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco, Richard Jenkins and Jon Polito. Joel Coen won the Best Director Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Ethan Coen, Joel Coens brother and co-director of the film, did not receive the Best Director Award as he was not credited as a director.
A tale of passion, crime and punishment set in the summer of 1949. Ed Crane, a barber in a small California town, is dissatisfied with his life, but his wife Doris' infidelity presents him with a chance to change it.
In 1949, Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is a low-key barber in the town of Santa Rosa, California. He is married to Doris (Frances McDormand), a bookkeeper with a drinking problem, and works in a barber shop that belongs to his brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco). A customer named Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito) tells Ed that hes a businessman looking for investors to put up $10,000 in a new technology called dry cleaning. Ed decides to get the money by anonymously blackmailing Doriss boss, "Big Dave" Brewster (James Gandolfini), whom he knows to be having an affair with Doris. Dave embezzles money from his department store to pay the blackmail. However, he soon pieces together the scheme and beats Tolliver until he implicates Ed. Dave confronts Ed at the store and attempts to kill him, but Ed stabs Dave fatally with a cigar knife.
After Daves funeral, his wife comes to Ed and confesses that, one day, she and Dave saw a UFO. Later, irregularities in the stores books are found. The police arrest Doris for embezzlement and murder. Ed is persuaded to hire Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub), an expensive defense attorney from Sacramento, who arrives and takes up residence in the best and most expensive hotel in town. He proceeds to live lavishly on Doriss defense fund, which Frank obtained by mortgaging the barber shop. It is all for nothing, because Doris hangs herself in her cell the morning before the trial. It is later revealed that she was pregnant when she hanged herself, but hadnt had sex with Ed since months ago. Riedenschneider leaves town disgusted and Frank, now deeply in debt, starts drinking heavily.
Ed makes regular visits to Birdy Abundas (Scarlett Johansson), a friends teenage daughter, to hear her play the piano. Tormented by loneliness, he imagines helping her start a musical career and becoming her manager. The fantasy is crushed when a music teacher (Adam Alexi-Malle) tells him that Birdy has no talent. On the way back from visiting the teacher, Birdy makes a pass at Ed and attempts to perform oral sex on him, causing Ed to lose control of the car and crash.
When Ed awakens in a hospital bed, two police officers (Christopher Kriesa and Brian Haley) tell him hes under arrest for murder. Tollivers beaten body has been found in a lake, along with Eds investment contract. The police believe Ed coerced Doris into embezzling the investment money and then killed Tolliver when he found out. Ed is arraigned for the murder and mortgages his house to re-hire Riedenschneider. Riedenschneiders opening statement to the jury is interrupted when Frank attacks Ed; a mistrial is declared. With no money and nothing left to mortgage, Ed throws himself on the mercy of the court. The gambit doesnt work, and the judge sentences him to death.
While waiting on death row, Ed writes his story to sell to a pulp magazine. Shortly before dying, his cell is opened and he goes outside the jailhouse, where he sees a UFO; he stays in jail nonetheless. Finally one morning he is walked to the electric chair and strapped in. He reflects on his fate, regretting none of his decisions and hoping to see Doris in the afterlife, both of them free of the mortal worlds imperfections.Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane
Frances McDormand as Doris Crane
Michael Badalucco as Frank Raffo
Richard Jenkins as Walter Abundas
Scarlett Johansson as Birdy Abundas
Jon Polito as Creighton Tolliver
Tony Shalhoub as Freddy Riedenschneider
James Gandolfini as Big Dave Brewster
Katherine Borowitz as Ann Nirdlinger Brewster
Christopher Kriesa as Officer Persky
Brian Haley as Officer Krebs
Jack McGee as P.I. Burns
Adam Alexi-Malle as Jacques Carcanogues
Christopher McDonald as Macadam salesman
John Michael Higgins as an ER doctor (uncredited)
Bill Murray was considered for the role of Ed Crane.
The film, which takes place in 1949, was inspired by a poster that the Coen brothers saw while filming The Hudsucker Proxy; the poster showed various haircuts from the 1940s.
The cinematography of Roger Deakins is straightforward and traditional. Most shots are made with the camera at eye level, with normal lensing and a long depth of field. The lighting is textbook, with quarter-light setups. When Ed appears onscreen, he is almost always shown smoking an unfiltered Chesterfield, another detail true to the era in which the film is set. The Man Who Wasnt There was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 2001.
The film contains several mentions of UFOs throughout, in dreams and in conversation, as well as in various props, including an ashtray.
Though a black and white film, The Man Who Wasnt There was shot in color and transferred to black and white. Some prints were accidentally released with the first couple of reels in color.
The film was well received by audiences and praised for its technique and performances. Billy Bob Thornton was highly praised in the role of Ed Crane. Richard Schickel for Time said that, "Affectlessness is not a quality much prized in movie protagonists, but Billy Bob Thornton, that splendid actor, does it perfectly as Ed Crane, a taciturn small-town barber, circa 1949."
Jonathan Rosenbaum for the Chicago Reader praised that "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."
Tim Robey for the Daily Telegraph said that its "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." The film holds an 81% "fresh" rating on the movie-review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes
Joel Coen won the Best Director Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, sharing it with David Lynch for his film Mulholland Drive.
Frances McDormand appears in The Man Who Wasnt There and Fargo. Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins appear in The Man Who Wasnt There and Burn After Reading. Frances McDormand appears in The Man Who Wasnt There and Blood Simple. Billy Bob Thornton and Richard Jenkins appear in The Man Who Wasnt There and Intolerable Cruelty. Carter Burwell composed the music for The Man Who Wasnt There and Millers Crossing.
The original soundtrack to The Man Who Wasnt There consists of classical music, mainly piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven, interspersed with cues composed by Carter Burwell. The film is the ninth on which Burwell has collaborated with the Coen Brothers.
In the film, the actor Adam Alexi-Malle, portraying the character of Jacques Carcanogues, plays the opening piano solo of the Piano Concerto No. 1 (Liszt) in E?Major.
Compositions by Carter Burwell except where otherwise noted.
- "Birdys Pathetique" (Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 1:17
- "Che soave zeffiretto" (from The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) - Edith Mathis and Gundula Janowitz (with the Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, conducted by Karl Bohm) – 3:33
- "Bringing Doris Home" (Piano Sonata Op. 79 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 1:18
- "I Met Doris Blind" – 1:15
- "Ed Visits Dave" – 1:03
- "Ed Returns Home" (Piano Sonata No.23 "Appassionata" 2nd Movement by Beethoven) – 1:57
- "I Love You Birdy Abundas!" – 0:42
- "Nirdlingers Swing" – 5:12
- "Moonlight Sonata" (Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 27 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 2:29
- "The Fight" – 3:01
- "The Bank" – 1:03
- "Adagio Cantabile" (Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 5:33
- "The Trial of Ed Crane" – 3:52
- "Andante Cantabile" (Piano Trio No. 7 in B flat Op. 97 ("Archduke") by Beethoven) - the Beaux Arts Trio – 13:28