The Man Who Wasn't There

Director:Joel Coen
Writers:Joel and Ethan Coen
USA Films; R; 112 minutes
Cast:Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, Michael Badalucco

Tell it to the media execs: A large part of the Ethan and Joel Coen's success lies in their refusal to embrace formulas. The Coen Brothers' unmistakable style—delightful or confusing—is instantly recognizable as unique. Lush black-and-white film noir The Man Who Wasn't There is another step forward for them.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Ed, a quiet chain-smoking barber caught in the glaring headlights of life. His 1940s Americana existence consists mainly of the barbershop, a cold marriage to Doris (Coen regular Frances McDormand), and interior monologues captured by voice-over narration. He's approached by a get-rich quick dry-cleaning scheme and decides to try a little extortion on his wife's fulsome boss, with whom she's been having an affair. Murder, misattributed guilt, a hyperactive lawyer (Tony Shalhoub) and a teenage temptress (Ghost World's Scarlet Johansson) soon careen into Ed's formerly uneventful life.

The Man Who Wasn't There lives in the Coen Brothers' parallel universe of off-kilter characters, unique pacing, and—particularly in this film—lovely cinematography. Sure, it's painstakingly brainy and a little hermetic, but the one-two punch of Coen direction and Coen dialogue give everything a delightful grounding.

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