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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'The Man Who Wasn't There': The Neo-Noir Tale of a Barber's Nefarious Blackmail Scheme Gone Awry

Movie poster for the Coen Brothers' film The Man Who Wasn't There starring Billy Bob Thornton

“The Man Who Wasn't There" (2001) is the seductive neo-noir tale of a modest small-town barber named Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) who is compelled to raise $10,000 in order to invest in a promising new technology known as "dry cleaning". In order to raise the funds, Crane hatches an illicit plan to anonymously blackmail his wife's employer "Big Dave" Brewster (James Gandolfini).

Suspecting that Brewster is sleeping with his wife Doris (Frances McDormand), Crane has little remorse for the uninhibited department store manager as he's forced to embezzle the cash from his workplace. Once Brewster catches onto the scheme, however, he is driven to angrily confront Crane—a showdown that sets the stage for a complex investigation and highly consequential criminal trial.

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen ("Fargo, "No Country For Old Men"), “The Man Who Wasn't There" is a stark and moody affair, rife with myriad throwback elements of classic noir cinema. A spiritual successor to their landmark debut thriller "Blood Simple", it benefits enormously from cinematographer Roger Deakins' exquisite black & white photography—deeply hued and wrought with foreboding atmospherics. Laced with touches of pitch-black comedy and laconic uncertainty, it's one the Coen's most underrated achievements.


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