A stone cold face which holds no expression is the one of the man who wasn’t there. No matter what’s happening in his life, the Barber fails to stand out amongst his fellow citizens. Even when everything is happening because of him, he slips on by in the noir black and white world. It’s almost poetic, isn’t it?
Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) is the Barber, and he cuts hair because that’s what he does. He doesn’t speak much, he doesn’t enjoy many social events aside from the piano music the young Birdy (Scarlett Johansson) plays and it seems everyone around him likes to talk a hell of a lot, including his cheating wife (Frances McDormand). He doesn’t really mind, he just wants to get by though a little extra money wouldn’t go amiss. And an opportunity crops up as a businessman (John Polito) enters his fine establishment and talks off a new dry cleaning venture. All Ed needs is $10,000 dollars to help set it up and he gains this by blackmailing his friend ‘Big Dave’ (James Gandolfini) who happens to be the one sleeping with Ed’s wife. It all naturally comes together, but it isn’t soon before everything falls apart. Dave finds out and attempts to take care of Ed, but things don’t turn out his way and suddenly a murder case is under-way. Yet no one suspects Ed, as they instead approach his wife, and Ed carries on going his way, doing whatever people tell him to. It’s often amusing, yet ultimately touching as we hear Ed’s insights on how the world is moving without him and how his people he meet react to the events unfolding before their eyes.
The Man Who Wasn’t There pays homage to the noir of old though the quirky unsettling atmosphere the Coen Brothers create in their movies is ever-present. The choice of going monochrome helps paint striking images and the use of colour helps showcase moods, feelings and atmosphere perfectly. The heavy smoking harks back to the olden days, but the way it drifts against the dark background is hypnotic. At first the choice may push people away, but it doesn’t take long before the feelings created by the image, colour and music draw them back in.
The more you look at something the less you know. That’s the case with this film as it progresses through bizarre situation after situation but each event is carefully formed and beautifully told. Ed’s emotionless state is quite the opposite when you hear his thoughts and the way he meanders through this world who pay no attention his way. The world would be a better place if people didn’t talk so much rubbish. What are you looking at me like that for?!