The Man Who Wasn't There

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Man Who Wasn't There Movie Poster Image
Some mature themes -- best for older teens.
  • R
  • 2001
  • 116 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.


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


Reference to adultery, adult has vague fantasies about teen.


Some strong language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink and smoke a lot.

What 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).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJim24 January 19, 2019
This should’ve been PG13. There’s three f words and a brief scene of self-defense via a knife that’s bloody but in black-and-white the detail is minimal. Great... Continue reading
Adult 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 a... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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?

Like all Coen brothers films, this one is filled with stunning images, this time brilliantly filmed in black and white. 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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love suspense

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