'The Man Who Wasn't There'

Hear the Coen Brothers Dissect Their Own Noir Thriller

Billy Bob Thornton plays the tortured barber in the 2001 film "The Man Who Wasn't There"

Billy Bob Thornton plays the tortured barber in the 2001 Coen brothers film The Man Who Wasn't There. Courtesy MCA hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy MCA
Scarlett Johansson plays "Birdie," the object of Thornton's obsession.

Scarlett Johansson plays "Birdie," the object of Thornton's obsession. Courtesy MCA hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy MCA
DVD cover for 'The Man Who Wasn't There'

DVD cover for The Man Who Wasn't There (MCA 2003) hide caption

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Jon Polito (seated) and Billy Bob Thornton in a scene from 'The Man Who Wasn't There'

Jon Polito (seated) and Billy Bob Thornton in a scene from 'The Man Who Wasn't There' hide caption

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The Man Who Wasn't There is the Coen brothers movie that actress Frances McDormand — who’s married to Joel Coen — called one of the pair's most personal. And this is the Coen brothers DVD that features what's missing from the DVDs of their other movies: a commentary track by Joel and Ethan, with Billy Bob Thornton along for the ride.

The Coens are not known for subtlety of gesture, but with this movie they re-create the feeling of late 1940s film noir, James M. Cain suburban division, with miniaturist precision in black-and-white. The airless world of ordinary life consumes Thornton's barber character, who reaches just high enough to knock everything out of whack, with murder and scandal the result.

Notoriously prankish and elusive during interviews, the Coens don't say anything on the commentary track to confirm McDormand's judgment about The Man Who Wasn't There being their most personal film. But the director-producer duo clearly love this movie.

They are nursed through the commentary track session by a talkative Thornton, who even challenges the brothers to notice something he added to his character in one scene. The actor proves more revealing than the directors about the haunting emotions burning in this quiet little masterpiece.

What's included: Apart from the Coen brothers/Thornton commentary track, there's precious few extras on the DVD. There's a string of highly promotional interview excerpts, and a few on-the-set shots lifted whole — complete with abrupt edits — from the electronic press kit that studios sent out to television and radio stations on the film's release in 2001. There are also a handful of on-set photos that show how one of the special effects was accomplished.

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More extras: Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who received an Oscar nomination for the velvety maze of shadow and light he captured on celluloid in The Man Who Wasn't There, is interviewed informally for about 45 minutes. Interestingly, the film was shot on color film stock — the film was printed in black-and-white for the United States release, but also printed in color for foreign release.

In fact the recently relaunched fan site devoted to Coen brother films, YouKnowForKids.co.uk, reports that the color print of The Man Who Wasn't There is actually available on a three- disc edition sold only in France, which means it won't play on most DVD players here. Perhaps a future super special "Coenheads" edition of The Man Who Wasn't There will include it.

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