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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English, English - Hearing Impaired
  • 5 Deleted scenes
  • Teaser trailer
  • Featurette
  • Photo gallery
  • 2 TV spot
  • Interviews
  • Filmographies

The Man Who Wasn't There

Buena Vista/Buena Vista . R4 . COLOR . 111 mins . MA15+ . PAL


Not only do the Coen brothers have a habit of dividing audiences, with some loving their work and some absolutely not ‘getting’ it, they also have an uncanny ability to thoroughly divide opinion on their creations amongst their fans. The Man Who Wasn’t There, or Untitled Barber Movie as it was known when being shot, is one such film from the pair, and with its obvious leanings and homages towards ‘40s-styled film noir, a style many modern filmgoers are quite unaccustomed to, it probably isn’t too surprising.

Released entirely in often gobsmackingly stylish black and white as shot by genius cinematographer Roger Deakins, certainly no stranger to working with Joel and Ethan, The Man Who Wasn’t There takes quite a languid pace, much of which is dictated by its even more languid central character, Billy Bob Thornton’s Ed Crane.

Crane is basically an accidental barber in 1940s Santa Rosa, California. A quiet, introspective and undemonstrative chain smoker whose only real love seems to be for his Zippo lighter, he tends second chair in the barbershop of his somewhat garrulous brother in law, Frank (Michael Badalucco). He’s married to the seemingly quite disenchanted, proto-souse Doris (Frances McDormand) and they don’t really interact much at all. She works as an accountant at Nirdlinger’s department store, her boss is Big Dave (James Gandolfini), the husband of the store’s owner, and Ed is pretty certain the two are having an affair.

"I don’t talk much, just cut hair."

When a customer, Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito), comes in one day espousing the virtues of the new-fangled technology that is dry cleaning, seeing a chance to perhaps escape the rut his life has become stuck in, Ed decides to blackmail Big Dave in order to raise the $10,000 investment required. It's seemingly a simple plan at first, however things soon spiral out of control with all manner of tragic consequences presenting themselves.

To reveal any more would be criminal, as despite the unhurried pacing of the film, quite the tangled web is woven as things progress, with truly film noir-styled twists and turns aplenty rewarding those who are patient. Intriguingly, despite his character’s lack of animation, Billy Bob delivers one of his finest performances, managing to bring much character to the remarkably aloof and taciturn Ed through both his on-screen persona and the provision of the voiceover - another faithful noir staple. The rest of the cast, including McDormand as brilliant as always (as if it needed saying) provide the life to counterpoint Ed’s stoniness, standouts amongst standouts being Tony Shalhoub’s high-powered, referring to himself in the third-person lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider and Scarlett Johansson’s disturbingly Lolita-esque Birdy. And only the Coens could also involve aliens in a story such as this...


As already mentioned, the black and white presentation of The Man Who Wasn't There is superb, and save for a couple of minor niggles it comes to DVD looking peachy keen. The 1.85:1, 16:9 enhanced picture displays an incredible range within the confines of a palette consisting solely of shades from black to white, the incredible use of light and dark coming across in a delightfully detailed transfer, marred only by a few minor instances of aliasing and shimmer, and a few slight halos here and there. The layer change is decently placed in a fade to black between scenes, with only a slightly noticeable interruption to a fading sound making it obvious. The film was shot on colour stock then converted to black and white, which has helped to keep things pretty much grain free, whilst alien invaders such as speckles are scarcely present, and hardly noticeable when they are.


A very un-1940’s like Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is what we’re served up, and not surprisingly it isn’t one which gives any sort of great workout to the surrounds. Some of the piano moments in the film and Carter Burwell’s score are occasionally padded out by them along with the odd subtle ambient effect; however the subwoofwoof remains firmly in the land of nod for the duration. What we do get, however, is a mix which makes decent use of the front soundstage and is at all times clear, distinct and well-synched – and for a talky film such as this nothing more could be desired.


OK, I can’t hold back any longer. One prospect Coen Brothers fans have been salivating at the thought of since the advent of DVD is a commentary from the pair – and overseas releases of The Man Who Wasn’t There feature Joel and Ethan, along with Billy Bob, doing it for the first (proper) time. Why oh why then did some goddamn knucklehead leave it off this region 4 release? Sure all the other extras are in place, but this was the money bonus which will now have diehard fans in their droves importing this disc (if they haven’t already, it’s taken forever to come out here) rather than supporting the local product. Hmm, hardly a highlight in the annals of DVD marketing in Australia...

What’s left after this major disappointment is quite good, starting with the static but stylish menus, all in black and white (naturally), and all with a fabulous noir style of their very own. First up are two featurettes, which although just being unprocessed chunks of interviews and bits and pieces strung together, have quite a bit in store in places. The first is entitled Making The Man Who Wasn’t There (16:24, full frame), and consists of colour interview bits with most of the principal actors - Frances McDormand, Billy Bob, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco and Tony Shalhoub – plus the Coens and director of photography Roger Deakins. This is all followed by some behind the scenes and B-roll footage, all fittingly presented in black and white. The next one will have those interested in the filmmaking process in rapt awe for its 46:19 running time (yep, that’s no mistype). The entire time is spent presenting interview footage with Roger Deakins (as seen in the first featurette), giving him plenty of time to speak of technical processes involved with shooting in black and white through to his influences through to other films in his career and working with the Coens. It’s all done with a pretty shaky camera and muffled questions from behind the scenes, but manages to be a fascinating insight into a side of filmmaking we aren’t often given access to.

Next up there’s five deleted scenes, however it may be advisable to curb that enthusiasm... The first is Riedenschneider’s Opening Argument (3:12), as seen in the film but without Billy Bob’s voiceover. The next three, The Timberline, The Duck Butt and The Alpine Ropetoss, are each simply eight or nine seconds of close-ups on haircuts. The final one, Doris’ Salad, is exactly that – 14 seconds of a lump of lettuce on a plate. They’re all in an un-enhanced ratio that hovers somewhere around 2:1.

Rounding things out are a photo gallery of 14 behind the scenes shots, all presented full screen; rather selective filmographies for the Coens and some of the cast; the theatrical teaser trailer (1:35, 1.85:1 un-enhanced) and two TV spots (0:33 and 0:18, full frame) which go for that old “the critics are raving!” angle.


The Coens certainly appear to have set out to make a faithful, yet distinctively ‘them’ take on the film noir style, and it just shows to go ya that if they put their minds to something then they can deliver, as on the whole they've succeeded admirably. This disc offers superb vision, sound that’s as good as it could be and a decent selection of extras – but is tainted considerably by the absence of the commentary track which other regions have been treated to.

It won’t win any new converts to the ways of the Coen, but for those after something a little different in the mystery/comedy/drama department, The Man Who Wasn’t There certainly rewards the patient, and only gets better with repeated viewings.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2256
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      And I quote...
    "The Coens do film noir and on the whole they have succeeded admirably. But where’s the goddamn commentary gone?!"
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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