Scarlett Johansson as Rachel “Birdy” Abundas
Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Release Year 2001
MPAA Rating R
Ed Crane is a barber in 1940′s Santa Rosa. Seemingly apathic and without batting an eyelid he gives his boring customers one boring haircut after another in his always bubbling brother-in-law Frank’s barber salon. His life isn’t much better at home: his wife Doris, who has a responsible job at the biggest local department store and has the trust of the owner Big Dave, expects more from live than Ed can afford. And she makes him feel that she looks down.
This is the basic situation at the beginning of this black-and-white film of the Coen brothers. Ed would like to get out of his life, his town, his profession. He gets a chance when a travelling sales representative comes as a customer in the salon. He tells that dry-cleaning is the future, that would bring profits and that there’s just a loss of investors. Ed visits him in his hotel room: with $10’000 Ed would be in. The problem: Ed isn’t rich at all. Where should he take so much money from? His splendid idea: Anonymously blackmail Big Dave since this one is having an affair with Doris. Up to now, this hadn’t bothered him much, but now he needs the money. Big Dave fears that he could lose his post at the store (that actually belongs to his wife Ann) if his affair became known and pays.
So far so good, you think. But Big Dave knows about Creighton’s plans. So he thinks that this one is the blackmailer. He lets people beat information out of him. Subsequently he calls Ed to his office in the middle of the night. Doris, drunk from a family party, is at home sleeping. Ed takes her key and unsuspectingly goes to the department store. Big Dave however attacks Ed and Ed kills Big Dave out of self defense.
The next day, the police comes to the salon – not to arrest him but to tell him that his wife has been arrested. She seems to be the killer since she seems to have embezzled $10’000. In fact, she had manipulated the books to help Big Dave getting the money for the blackmail. The town’s attorney Walter Abundas recommends the Top attorney from the big city Freddy Riedenschneider. While Ed and Frank try to get the money for the attorney and Freddy Riedenschneider starts creating a ‘truth’ of what had happened, Ed finds more and more comfort in Rachael’s (or Birdy’s) piano play, Walter’s daughter. The events still follow hot on each other’s heels. Since Ed sees his life falling into pieces he wants to help Birdy get a secure future as a pianist. He organises an auditioning at a piano teacher, which isn’t successful. On their way back, Birdy causes an accident by her behaviour. When Ed regains conscience at the hospital, the police is ready to arrest him. Not because of Birdy or so, she is fine, but because of the murder of Creighton. Ed’s life gets even more complicated, Freddy Riedenschneider tries to help him with the ‘truth’ as well, while the actual truth isn’t considered at all.
The film has rightly been called a jet-black tale of passion, jealousy, punishment and betray. Being in black-and-white creates the perfect atmosphere and moves you back in time. It’s a special film, but very well-made and shows excellent performances of everyone involved.
Scarlett Johansson’s Role
Scarlett Johansson plays Birdy Abundas, the piano playing daughter of the town attorney. Ed thinks her piano play to be extraodinary when in fact it isn’t anything special. Also, she only goes to the auditioning for the mere sake of it, and for Ed’s sake. She’d prefer becoming a veterinarian. Actually, nothing is what it seems to be or what it is in the film. And that’s also true for Birdy. Unfortunately, her character abrubtly disappears from the story and didn’t have much time to develop beforehand either.
Scarlett as a girl in the year 1949 looks great, and you believe that Birdy has more sides to her than we get to see. Even though, as I said, Scarlett wasn’t in many scenes, The Man Who Wasn’t There gave her the opportunity to profile herself as a serious almost-grown-up actress.
… Billy Bob Thornton
… Frances McDormand
… Michael Badalucco
Trivia & Facts
• The movie was filmed in color, then printed in black and white by special processing. However, at least one print was released with the first reel in normal color due to an error at the lab. The DVD features both versions.
• Billy Bob Thornton purposely made it look like Ed Crane had an erection in one of the scenes where he’s watching Scarlett Johansson’s character playing the piano. Only one of the prop guys noticed during production.
• The title is taken from the Hughes Mearns poem “Antigonish”.
Quotes: Scarlett Johansson
• Scarlett About Her Role “What attracted me to Birdy is she’s not like every other character. There’s definitely a Lolita-kind of quality about her; she’s very innocent, but you see in the way that Billy Bob’s character is drawn into her that she’s also kind of mischievous. There’s something about her that’s a little off, and then at the end you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s it.’”
Quotes: Her Character
• “You know what you are? An enthusiast.”
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