It's a matter of dispute whether the Coen brothers have ever made a bad film; you could argue that they've never even made an average one. All the way from their snowbound, Oscar-winning murder story Fargo, through the frankly bizarre Big Lebowski to the bluegrass O Brother, Where Art Thou? their films have all had a streak of the unique and peculiar running through them.
The Man Who Wasn't There tells the story of a laconic, chain-smoking small-town barber in the 1950s (Billy-Bob Thornton), who gets caught up in a mix of scams, murder, betrayal, and dry-cleaning. While fully aware of his wife's affair with a local businessman - "It's a free world" - for some time, the collapse of an investment with a dodgy travelling salesman gives him the perfect excuse to plot his rival's downfall and his wife's comeuppance.
Meanwhile he takes the daughter of a friend (Scarlett Johannson) under his wing, when he hears her incredible piano playing, trying to get her lessons from a succession of prima-donna teachers. Of course, this being a Coen brothers film, nothing is quite as simple as all that, and the noir-ish plot soon becomes twisted and dark, whilst always remaining strangely humourous. While some may balk at the truly odd ending and the lack of a happily-ever-after conclusion to the story, everyone else should be dazzled by the beautiful black and white cinematography, brilliant script, and wonderful performances by the central cast.
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