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
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.
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