In their deeply ironic yet habitually impish, beautifully black-and-white 1950s drama "The Man Who Wasn't There," writing-directing brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have revived the dry, laconic spirit of prototypical film noir and applied it to the life of an everyday barber.
True, he's an everyday barber mixed up in the blackmail and murder of his cheating wife's boss and lover. But he's such an obscure, detached shadow of a man that the whole mess feels almost workaday mundane. You see, it's not his wife's affair that motivates the man. "It's a free country," he says in the movie's soporific, quietly sonorous running voice-over. It's the fact that he figures blackmail is a good way to get $10,000 out of the boyfriend so he can invest in some new-fangled invention called dry cleaning.
The barber, named Ed Crane, is played with brilliant reserve by Billy Bob Thornton, who has the most subtly expressive, heavily crevassed film noir face to smoke a dangling cigarette since Humphrey Bogart. He hardly registers a distinguishable emotion in 116 minutes, yet his passive soul fills the screen as Ed's plans go badly awry.
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