The Man Who Wasn't There (2001 film)

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The Man Who Wasn't There
The Man Who Wasnt There.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Coen
Produced byEthan Coen
Written by
  • Joel Coen
  • Ethan Coen
Narrated byBilly Bob Thornton
Music byCarter Burwell
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited by
Distributed by
Release date
  • May 13, 2001 (2001-05-13) (Cannes)
  • October 26, 2001 (2001-10-26) (United Kingdom)
  • November 2, 2001 (2001-11-02) (United States)
Running time
116 minutes[1]
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
Budget$20 million
Box office$18.9 million[2]

The Man Who Wasn't There is a 2001 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. The plot follows a laconic, chain-smoking barber as he plans to blackmail his wife's boss and lover for money to invest in dry cleaning.

Joel Coen won the Best Director Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, sharing the prize with David Lynch for Mulholland Drive. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen's brother and co-director of the film, did not receive the Best Director Award as he was not credited as a director. This was the last film to be produced and distributed by Gramercy Pictures until it was revived in 2015[b].


In 1949, Ed Crane is a low-key barber in the town of Santa Rosa, California. He is married to Doris, a bookkeeper with a drinking problem, and works in a barber shop that is owned by his brother-in-law, Frank. A customer named Creighton Tolliver tells Ed that he is a businessman looking for investors to put up $10,000 in a new technology called dry cleaning. Ed decides to collect money by anonymously blackmailing Doris's boss, "Big Dave" Brewster, whom he suspects is having an affair with her. Dave embezzles money from his department store to pay the blackmail. However, Dave 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 fatally stabs Dave with a cigar knife in self-defense.

After irregularities in the store's books are found, the police arrest Doris on the assumption that she embezzled the money and murdered Dave. Ed is persuaded to hire Freddy Riedenschneider, a defense attorney from Sacramento, who arrives and takes up residence in the most expensive hotel in town. He proceeds to live lavishly on Doris's defense fund, which Frank obtained by mortgaging the barber shop. It is all for nothing, because on the morning of the trial Doris hangs herself in her cell. It is later revealed that she was pregnant when she hanged herself, but had not had sex with Ed for many years. Riedenschneider leaves town while Frank, now deeply in debt, starts drinking heavily. Ed regularly visits Rachel "Birdy" Abundas, a friend's 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 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.

Ed wakes up in a hospital bed and two police officers arrest him for murder. Tolliver's beaten body has been found with Ed's investment contract. The police speculate that Ed coerced Doris into embezzling the investment money, and killed Tolliver when he found out. Ed mortgages his house and hires Riedenschneider for his defense. During Riedenschneider's opening statement, Frank attacks Ed, and a mistrial is declared. With no means left for his defense, Ed throws himself on the mercy of the court. The tactic fails, and the judge sentences him to death. While waiting on death row, Ed writes his story to sell to a pulp magazine. Shortly before his execution, Ed sees a UFO outside the jailhouse. As Ed is electrocuted, 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 world's imperfections.


Concept and production[edit]

The film was inspired by a poster that showed various haircuts from the 1940s; the Coen brothers had seen it while filming The Hudsucker Proxy.[3]


The film was well received by audiences and praised for its technique and performances. The Man Who Wasn't There has an approval rating of 81% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 159 reviews, and an average rating of 7.07/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Stylish but emotionally distant, The Man Who Wasn't There is a clever tribute to the film noir genre.[4] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5]

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 said 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 it's "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."


Joel Coen won the Best Director Award at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, sharing it with David Lynch for his film Mulholland Drive.[6]

Roger Deakins was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography at the 74th Academy Awards, losing to Andrew Lesnie for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.


The Man Who Wasn't There
Soundtrack album by
Carter Burwell and various artists
ReleasedOctober 30, 2001
GenreFilm score
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Man Who Wasn't There
Intolerable Cruelty

The original soundtrack to The Man Who Wasn't 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.

  1. "Birdy's 'Pathétique'" (Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 1:17
  2. "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 Böhm) – 3:33
  3. "Bringing Doris Home" (Piano Sonata Op. 79 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 1:18
  4. "I Met Doris Blind" – 1:15
  5. "Ed Visits Dave" – 1:03
  6. "Ed Returns Home" (Piano Sonata No.23 "Appassionata" 2nd Movement by Beethoven) – 1:57
  7. "I Love You Birdy Abundas!" – 0:42
  8. "Nirdlinger's Swing" – 5:12
  9. "Moonlight Sonata" (Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor Op. 27 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 2:29
  10. "The Fight" – 3:01
  11. "The Bank" – 1:03
  12. "Adagio Cantabile" (Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 by Beethoven) - Jonathan Feldman – 5:33
  13. "The Trial of Ed Crane" – 3:52
  14. "Andante Cantabile" (Piano Trio No. 7 in B flat Op. 97 ("Archduke") by Beethoven) - the Beaux Arts Trio – 13:28


  1. ^ Roderick Jaynes is the shared pseudonym used by the Coen brothers for their editing.
  2. ^ Gramercy Pictures was only a copyright holder of the film.


  1. ^ "The Man Who Wasn't There (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 2001-09-14. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
  2. ^ The Man Who Wasn't There at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Orr, Christopher (September 18, 2014). "30 Years of Coens: The Man Who Wasn't There". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on August 7, 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  4. ^ "The Man Who Wasn't There Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2008-02-04. Retrieved 2010-07-29.
  5. ^ "Reviews for The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)". Metacritic. Archived from the original on October 20, 2015. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Man Who Wasn't There". Archived from the original on 2012-10-08. Retrieved 2009-10-18.

External links[edit]