The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)

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Released 28-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of-Making "The Man Who Wasn't There"
Interviews-Crew-Interview With Cinematographer Roger Deakins
Deleted Scenes-5
Gallery-Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery
Filmographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots-2
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 111:07
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (95:37) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
USA Films
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Billy Bob Thornton
Frances McDormand
Michael Badalucco
James Gandolfini
Katherine Borowitz
Jon Polito
Scarlett Johansson
Richard Jenkins
Tony Shalhoub
Christopher Kriesa
Brian Haley
Jack McGee
Gregg Binkley
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Carter Burwell

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, constant
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Man Who Wasn't There is a stunning treat for the eyes. Black and white films make it to the big screen fairly infrequently nowadays, and it makes a refreshing change to see such a masterful piece of cinematography. It is not surprising to learn from the cover that this film was nominated for an Academy Award for cinematography. According to Roger Deakins (cinematographer) the film was in actual fact shot on medium-fast colour negative and then transferred to black and white title stock. This was required as they had a contractual obligation to provide colour footage for overseas video release, but it had the hidden benefit of providing less grain than traditional black and white stock. Well, it certainly works, as this is one of the most sumptuous pieces of filmmaking you are ever likely to see. Wonderful, dreamy stuff indeed. So - it looks great, but how does this quirky picture, from the ever-quirky Coen Brothers stack up overall?

    The movie is an homage to the film-noir pieces of the 1950s with a trademark Coen surrealism injection. It comprises a plot with more curves than a bag of Twisties, smart dialogue and outstanding performances across the board. Ed Crane is a second-chair barber in 1949 Santa Rosa, California. The shop is owned "free and clear" by his brother-in-law Frank (Michael Badalucco, The Practice). His wife Doris (the always perfect Frances McDormand (Fargo and Almost Famous)), is a social-climbing bookkeeper at the local department store Nirdlinger's. Ed suspects, correctly, that she is having an affair with her slimy boss "Big" Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini, The Sopranos). Despite this infidelity, Ed seems content to move impassively through life, listening, observing and rarely talking - he is essentially The Man Who Wasn't There.

    When Ed is presented with the business opportunity of a lifetime - the chance to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning dry-cleaning industry - the fates conspire to lead him down a strange rabbit-hole indeed. To raise the money to buy into the business, he rashly determines to blackmail Big Dave about his affair with Doris. If Dave's heiress wife, Ann (Katharine Borowitz) was to find out, he could be ruined. The web of deceit becomes ever more tangled as Dave turns to the sombre, sensible Ed for guidance on how to deal with the blackmailer...

    With space-ships, classical music, murder, homosexuality and a hint of Lolita thrown into the mix, this film never fails to introduce surprising and whimsical plot twists. The dialogue is snappy and the acting is outstanding from Thornton - his stoic, stony-faced Ed is a classic characterisation. The other leads also put in solid turns, including Tony Shalhoub as the arrogant lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider and Scarlett Johannson as the sexy and talented young Birdy Abundas.

    One of my favourite films of all time is an earlier Coen Brothers piece, also starring Mrs Joel Coen (aka Frances McDormand) - Fargo. This film may not seem as immediately accessible as earlier or more famous Coen works (such as the fun O Brother, Where Art Thou?), but it is just as worthy of praise. It moves at a more genteel pace, but soon draws you in nevertheless. The main criticism of the film was its pacing - some considered it too slow - and its running time which was considered too great. However, for those of us that get into the rhythm of the film it almost doesn't feel long enough. The characteristic mischievous wit is certainly evident, but possibly the most striking aspect of the film - at least on the first viewing - is the striking, evocative and creative cinematography of Deakins. From the opening shot of the twisting barber's pole, accompanied by the plaintive piano solo you can guess you are in for a treat with this picture. And you are. Highly recommended to fans of the Coens, Thornton or just beautiful cinematography. Lovely stuff.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality of this transfer is essentially perfect with no flaws of any significance.

    The video is presented 16x9 enhanced at 1.85:1 which is the original theatrical aspect ratio. The transfer is razor sharp throughout, with no hint of grain to spoil the beautifully rendered images.

    Being a black and white film, it is wonderful to see that the black levels are endless, rock solid and without the merest hint of low level noise. The numerous silhouettes which crop up through the film are coal mine dark. Shadow detail is superb throughout and the greyscale is marvellous. With the full contrast range used, from crisp whites to inky blacks, there are so many shades on offer that you do not miss the presence of colour for a second.

    I noticed no MPEG compression artefacts in the transfer. Some occasional very mild edge enhancement is only ever noticeable if you look very hard for it, and never comes close to being distracting. Aliasing was not an issue on my progressive scan system.

    Film artefacts are extremely rare in what is essentially a spotless transfer.

    The English subtitles are wonderfully easy to read, courtesy of a welcome yellow font which stands out well against the black and white images. They follow the dialogue perfectly at all times. There are also English captions for the hearing impaired - they are essentially the same, with the addition of audio cues for doorbells and the like.

    This disc is single sided and dual layered (RSDL) formatted, with the very brief layer change superbly placed during a fade-to-black at 95:37.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The overall audio transfer is technically fine and appropriate for the nature of the piece.

    The sole English audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 384 kbps. It has no significant flaws in the way of hiss, dropouts or pops and there were no issues with audio sync. The dialogue is transmitted perfectly, with the wonderful smoky, croaky narration by Thornton perfectly mimicking the classic film noir style. It is the perfect complement to the dreamy cinematography at all times.

    The original music is credited to Carter Burwell (Adaptation, Three Kings and Fargo amongst a distinguished list of films). The piano compositions of Beethoven and Mozart are seamlessly integrated into the film. They perfectly complement the rhythm of the dialogue and imagery, helping to provide an other-worldly dreaminess to much of the film. This is a really lovely soundtrack.

    The front speakers do the lion's share of the work here with the dialogue cleanly carried and well anchored in the front soundstage. There is a reasonable degree of separation across the front speakers.

    The surround speakers are subtly used to carry the melancholy musical score, although at times they can provide a fairly enveloping feel to the audio. Not surprisingly, there really is very little in the way of directional panning or localised sound effects, but there is some occasional use of surround ambience beyond just the musical soundtrack (for instance the wind whistling around 54:00). This mainly frontal soundstage is appropriate for the dialogue driven nature of the piece but I would still have liked to hear a little more work from the surrounds. The subwoofer does see some very occasional use, but is generally not needed for any significant LFE duties.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are a number of extras on the disc, and some are even worthwhile, but there is one major omission:


    The main menu is a silent and static picture of Ed, sitting stoically on his sofa. It allows the options of playing the movie, subtitle activation, choosing from a relatively few fourteen chapter stops and access to the following extras:

Making The Man Who Wasn't There

    A fairly typical talking heads EPK piece, the main actors and crew discuss their views on the film. There is some lousy editing on show here, with actors cut off in mid sentence and the piece feels unfinished. Running for 16:25, it is presented full screen (1.33:1) and therefore not 16x9 enhanced, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps.

Interview with Roger Deakins

    This substantial featurette runs for 46:20, and is once again presented full screen (1.33:1) and not 16x9 enhanced, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps. It is a detailed discussion of his earlier work, his influences and technical details such as his choice of film stock. Whilst is is a little rough around the edges (phones ringing in the background, mumbled questions et cetera) it is an interesting piece, and well worth a watch.

Deleted Scenes

    A downright weird selection of excised material, presented letterboxed and therefore not 16x9 enhanced with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps.

Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery

    Fourteen fairly useless silent stills from the set.


    A single-page, silent, condensed filmography for each of the main cast and crew - eight screens in total.

Theatrical Trailer

    This very stylish trailer is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps. It runs for 1:35.

TV Spots

    Presented fullscreen with a (rather loud) Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps, these run for 0:33 and 0:18.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 and Region 2 releases of this film appear to be identical to one another. They are broadly similar to the Region 4 release with a single, major omission:.

    The Region 4 version misses out on:

    The Region 4 version cannot be recommended due to the missing commentary track. I would suggest the Region 2 version would be the disc of choice, given the presence of the commentary and the PAL transfer.


    The Man Who Wasn't There is a gem of a film. As ever, the Coen Brothers deliver a quirky, convoluted work - this time in a film noir style. Billy Bob Thornton delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, ably supported by Frances McDormand and Michael Badalucco amongst a great ensemble cast. The real star of the show however, is undoubtedly the gorgeous black and white cinematography of Roger Deakins. Lavish and sumptuous, this is a film-lover's treat. Highly recommended.

    The video quality is first class.

    The audio transfer is good and fits the feel of the film perfectly.

    The extras are of mixed quality and miss the Coen Brothers commentary present in Regions 1 and 2.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Amy F
Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page - Roger (Some say he's afraid of the Dutch, and that he's stumped by clouds. All we know, this is his bio.)
AllZone4DVD - Toan B

Comments (Add)
Further region info -
Region 2... - Winter
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