The Man Who Wasn't There

  • Review Date: May 20, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2001
  • Running Time: 116 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Some mature themes -- best for older teens.
  • Review Date: May 20, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2001
  • Running Time: 116 minutes





What parents need to know


Struggle that ends in murder, dead body, car crash (off screen).


Reference to adultery, adult has vague fantasies about teen.


Some strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters drink and smoke a lot.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie's themes include adultery, blackmail, murder, and the death penalty. There's a very violent struggle, and a character is killed. Another dead body is briefly visible. A character commits suicide, and characters are injured in car accident (off-screen). An adult has some unfocused fantasies about an intimate relationship with a teenager. Characters drink and smoke (Ed smokes constantly).

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Kids say

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What's the story?

In THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE, Billy Bob Thornton plays Ed Crane, who thinks of himself simply as "The Barber." He mans the second chair in a barbershop owned by his wife's brother. He isn't particularly happy with his life in Santa Rosa, but he doesn't expect happiness, and even if he did, he wouldn't expect himself to take any steps to find it. He does what he's told, because it never occurs to him that he has a choice. Ed believes that his wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), is having an affair with her affable boss, "Big Dave" Brewster (James Gandolfini). Ed isn't jealous or angry. He has no particular feeling about it. But then he meets Creighton Tolliver (Joe Polito) who tells him that for only $10,000, Ed can invest in a new invention so wonderful it would just have to make a man wealthy – "dry cleaning." Ed decides to blackmail Big Dave to get the money. But things go wrong, two people are murdered, and the wrong person is arrested. A pretty teenager who plays the piano makes Ed think about the world outside of Santa Rosa.

Is it any good?


The Coen brothers have a deep appreciation for film history, and many of their past films have been tributes to the 1930s and '40s genres. With The Man Who Wasn't There, they return to the inspiration for their first film, Blood Simple, the films noir of the 1930s and 1940s. With this film they go further than they have before in submersing themselves into the genre, with little of their usual ironic distance.

Part of the code of the films noir was that evil could not triumph. These times may be just as uncertain, but audience expectations have changed. This movie is so traditional in structure, tone, language, and content that it might bewilder viewers not familiar enough with the genre to recognize that some of the names in the movie are taken from noir classics like Double Indemnity and Gandolfini's performance seems to channel the brilliant, underrated 1940's actor, Paul Douglas. They will, however, appreciate outstanding performances from the entire cast, especially Tony Shaloub as a hotshot lawyer. Like all Coen brothers films, it is filled with stunning images, this time brilliantly filmed in black and white.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how this movie compares to the movies that it salutes, and about whether audiences have changed. Why was Ed so passive? What else could/should he have done?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 2, 2001
DVD release date:October 1, 2002
Cast:Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini
Director:Joel Coen
Studio:USA Films
Run time:116 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:a scene of violence

This review of The Man Who Wasn't There was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Educator and Parent Written byRedCar October 29, 2013

A thinker's film

This is a thought provoking film that is worth watching if your kids are intellectually gifted and are versed in different sorts of media. My children, age 14 and 17 found it intriguing and the discussion that followed was engaging.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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