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The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama  |  16 November 2001 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 81,934 users   Metascore: 73/100
Reviews: 441 user | 190 critic | 33 from Metacritic.com

A laconic, chain-smoking barber blackmails his wife's boss and lover for money to invest in dry cleaning, but his plan goes terribly wrong.


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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 23 wins & 41 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lilyan Chauvin ...


1949, Santa Rosa, California. A laconic, chain-smoking barber with fallen arches tells a story of a man trying to escape a humdrum life. It's a tale of suspected adultery, blackmail, foul play, death, Sacramento city slickers, racial slurs, invented war heroics, shaved legs, a gamine piano player, aliens, and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Ed Crane cuts hair in his in-law's shop; his wife drinks and may be having an affair with her boss, Big Dave, who has $10,000 to invest in a second department store. Ed gets wind of a chance to make money in dry cleaning. Blackmail and investment are his opportunity to be more than a man no one notices. Settle in the chair and listen. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The last thing on his mind is murder.


Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for a scene of violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






| |

Release Date:

16 November 2001 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Barber Project  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$20,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

£419,609 (UK) (26 October 2001)


$7,494,849 (USA) (22 February 2002)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


When Ed Crane is at the French piano teacher's studio (Jacques Carcanogues), the actor portraying him, Adam Alexi-Malle, plays the opening of the Piano Concerto #1 by Franz Liszt. This was unplanned and spontaneous during one of the takes during shooting as Joel Coen and Ethan Coen were unaware that Adam was in fact an accomplished concert pianist. See more »


When Ed and Frank are at the bank, Ed lights up a cigarette, a distinctive Zippo lighter click is heard. But a few seconds earlier, one can clearly see that the lighter is already open. See more »


[first lines]
Ed Crane: Yeah, I worked in a barbershop, but I never considered myself a barber. I stumbled into it. Or married into it, more precisely.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The opening titles cast shadows on the wall as if they are real. See more »


Referenced in Film Geek (2005) See more »


The Marriage of Figaro
Written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performed by Deutsche Opera Berlin
Courtesy of Deutsche Grammophone GmbH, Hamburg
Under license from Universal Music Enterprises
See more »

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User Reviews

Great pastiche of the noir genre
19 July 2002 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Ed Crane is a barber who quietly wants more from his life. When he meets a man with a business proposition he decides to go for it. He suspects his wife is having an affair with her boss and anonymously blackmails him – however things in noir are never straightforward and blackmail leads to murder and a series of events are sparked off around Ed.

I must say I'm surprised this is as high up the imdb charts as it is, but I'm not surprised by the lukewarm reception it had from multiplex audiences. This is a slow, moody homage where things just happen, rather than a neat `start-middle-tidy finish-bad guy dies' type thing. The Cohen brothers have a reputation for the old quirks and here is no different – mixing the steady noir narration with talk of haircuts and bingo makes for a strange if humorous mix. The plot is good but the noir feel mixed with weird going-ons may alienate many audiences.

Thornton is a perfect choice – his features fit well in the black and white shadows and his voice suits the noir narration. McDormand is good and Gandolfini gets another good role and does well. The support is very good – Badalucco, Shalhoub, Polito are all very good. Some elements of it are like a spot the TV face – we have Benrubi from ER, Higgins from Ally McBeal and Abundas from Six Feet Under all in small roles. It's even nice to see a cameo from McDonald.

Overall this isn't as funny as it was billed, simply because it is a noir. As such the Cohens mix the familiar themes of that genre with all new subjects and create a great effect.

49 of 66 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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