Written and Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen
Although not a true example of the film noir genre, The Man Who Wasn’t There, provides a glimpse of the darker side of life
in a small 1940s Californian town. In contrast to traditional film noir, the film’s main character, Ed Crane (Billy Bob
Thorton), is not the loud, obnoxious, sleazy anti-hero that haunts the shadows. Instead he is respected barber, a man of few
words, and has everything that most middle-class men of the 1940s had: stable job, wife, and a straightforward existence.
Ed doesn’t “realize” that he’s unhappy and needs something new in his life until a providential meeting with Jon Polito, a
man in town to gain investors for a string of dry cleaning stores. Ed begins to imagine that he will obtain satisfaction
for himself if only he had the money to invest with Mr. Polito. From that point forward, he makes choices that lead him into
the depths of deception, murder, and his own soul. His descent is both painful to watch and impossible to ignore and through
his story we are able to see where a lack of contentedness can lead.
To support the film’s theme of a descent, the film’s cinematographer Roger Deakins provides a starkly beautiful backdrop on
which the action takes place. His experience and commitment to art is readily apparent in this film as in a number of his
other efforts: O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo, and The Shawshank Redemption.
Along with the marvelous story and incredible cinematography, the performances in the film are phenomenal. Billy Bob
Thorton’s portrayal of Ed Crane is a performance he has been unable to deliver since Sling Blade. In addition, the
supporting cast is overflowing with other great actors, including Frances McDormand as Doris Crane, Michael Badalucco as the
owner of the barbershop, and Freddy Riedenschender as the famous defense attorney, just to name a few.
In short, pick up this movie the next time you are in the video store. You won’t regret it.