Good but Disappointing: The Man Who Wasn’t There

I’m going to keep this short and sweet, which is what the film should’ve done.

For years I’ve been a huge fan of The Coens and I’m all but certain that Hail Caesar! will be glorious entertainment.  But there’s always been something so disappointing about their 2001 effort, The Man Who Wasn’t There. 

The Coen brothers wrote a film so close to perfection I could almost taste it. This retro noir is about a quiet barber who gets caught up in embezzlement, murder, and lies. That’s all you need to know because the less you know the better.

What’s really sad about this film is that this could’ve been one of the best noir films ever made. I know that’s a bold statement but I believe it to be true.


The cinematography is beyond excellent, thank you Roger Deakins. The richness in each frame and the superb use of shadows will make any cinema aficionado’s mouth water.

The cast is unbelievably good and is lead by a career best performance by Billy Bob Thornton. He is such a magnetic presence and wonderful narrator that the film succeeds enormously because of him.

One of the biggest surprises about this film wasn’t the twists and turns, but it was the  supporting turn by a young Scarlett Johansson.  It’s nice to see a child actress show so much promise and to see that promise translate well into her adult years.

Her character is one of the reasons why I really enjoyed the movie and why I didn’t quite love the film as it went on.

Why the film falls short of the greatness however, is because of the Coen brothers’ ever present ambition.


Ambition is a beautiful thing but sometimes when the perfect story pans out, people put more in to make it a richer experience.  The Coens fall victim to this.

When the first hour is over, you feel like the movie is about to end but it goes on for almost another hour.

During this overlong second half, even more quirky and eccentric characters show up. This is when the film literally goes off the rails because the pace is so slow that the characters don’t quite fit in.

But let me cut to the chase and end this review by quoting Michael Ciment, “This is a 90 minute film that plays for 2 hours“.

Images via Gramercy Pictures

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