Directed By: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco
Tag line: "The last thing on his mind is murder"
Trivia: Because he trusted the quality of Joel and Ethan Coen's work, Billy Bob Thornton agreed to do the movie before even reading the script
Set in the 1950’s and inspired by the finest tradition of film noir, the Coen Brother’s The Man Who Wasn’t There is the story of a quiet, unassuming barber named Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton). Nothing much interesting ever happens to Ed, that is until the day he meets self-proclaimed entrepreneur Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito). Tolliver fills Ed in on what he believes to be an incredible investment opportunity, piquing Ed’s curiosity in a way he's never experienced before.
Ed is married to Doris (Frances McDormand), an ambitious accountant working at the local department store owned and operated by Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). Ed is convinced Doris and Dave are having an affair, yet being such a quiet guy, he's not about to let something like that upset him. What does grab Ed's attention is Crieghton Tolliver's proposal, which offers him a chance to get in on the ground floor of a revolutionary new process called “dry cleaning”. For Ed, this is more than a sound investment; it's a way to break free of the monotony that's become his life. But he needs $10,000 to make it happen. So, to raise the money, Ed sends an anonymous letter to Big Dave, threatening to expose his relationship with Doris if he doesn’t shell out some cash. Yet what starts out as blackmail soon leads to murder, and in one fell swoop, Ed's life goes from humdrum to out-of-control.
Shot in black and white, The Man Who Wasn’t There has a definite noir feel to it, with dialogue so quick and to-the-point that it plays like a live-action pulp novel. But what really sells the movie’s atmosphere is the character of Ed Crane, played by the always-interesting Billy Bob Thornton. Ed is a man of few words (excluding those he speaks in his dual role as narrator). He’s an easy-going guy, and rarely gets riled up about anything, not even Doris' affair with Dave. Why should he be angry? It’s a free country, after all, and if Doris wants Dave, then so be it. We learn early on it takes a hell of a lot to get Ed Crane rattled, and the character never loses control of his calm demeanor, even when things get out of hand.
Despite the steep tradition of film noir that permeates throughout the movie, the main thrust of The Man Who Wasn’t There isn’t one of murder or treachery, but Ed’s desire to end the dreary repetitiveness of his life, and even if he doesn't make anything of himself, at least he gave it the old college try. Win or lose, for a brief, shining moment, Ed Crane was no longer the man who wasn’t there.