The Man Who Wasn't 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 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.


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 he 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 he's 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 Doris's 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 Dave's funeral, his wife comes to Ed and confesses that, one day, she and Dave saw a UFO. Later, irregularities in the store's books are found. The police arrest Doris for embezzlement and Dave's 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 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 disgusted and Frank, now deeply in debt, starts drinking heavily.

Ed makes regular visits to Rachel "Birdy" Abundas (Scarlett Johansson), 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 (Adam Alexi-Malle) tells him that Birdy has no talent. Driving 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 awakens in a hospital bed and two police officers (Christopher Kriesa and Brian Haley) tell him he's under arrest 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 when Tolliver found out he was killed. Ed engages Riedenschneider for his defense. During Riedenschneider's opening statement Frank attacks Ed; a mistrial is declared. Without wealth, Ed throws himself on the mercy of the court. The tactic fails to 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 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

The film was inspired by a poster which showed various haircuts from the 1940s that the Coen brothers saw while filming The Hudsucker Proxy.[3] The concept seems to be inspired by Albert Camus' novel The Stranger, whose protagonist also shows Absurdist characteristics.


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 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." The film holds an 81% "fresh" rating on the movie-review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes,[4] and a 73/100 average on Metacritic.[5]


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


The Man Who Wasn't There
Soundtrack album by Carter Burwell and various artists
Released October 30, 2001
Recorded 2001
Genre Film score
Length 45:43
Label Decca
Coen Brothers film soundtracks chronology
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
(2000)O Brother, Where Art Thou?2000
The Man Who Wasn't There
Intolerable Cruelty
(2003)Intolerable Cruelty2003

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. ^ "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. Retrieved September 11, 2016. 
  4. ^ "The Man Who Wasn't There Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Beta.rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  5. ^ "Reviews for The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)". Metacritic. Retrieved November 9, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Man Who Wasn't There". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 

External links