THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE
movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This spoiler was written by Taller94 who writes... " The film is great, a little slow, but definitely a return to form for the Coen Bros."
The film takes place in the sleepy town of Santa Rosa, California, in the late 1940s. The main character is Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton), the local barber.
(Also the man in the title) He works in the barbershop with his brother-in-law, Frank. Frank talks a lot, and I mean, a lot. In fact, the guy won't shut up. Ed, on the other hand, is very quiet, and just cuts hair and smokes cigarettes. Ed is married to Doris (Frances McDormand), who works at Nirdlinger's Department Store as the bookkeeper. Their marraige is very subdued, and she orders Ed around a lot. Ed also suspects that Doris is having an affair with her boss, Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini). However, Ed has no proof of it.
One day, an eccentric businessman named Creighton Tolliver comes into the barbershop.
Tolliver is bald, and has a very bad toupee, but intrigues Ed when he talks about the wave of the future: dry cleaning. Tolliver just needs $10,000 as start-up money, and promises to give his silent partner an easy 50/50 split. Ed is very interested, but doesn't have the money. To get the money, Ed cooks up a little scheme: he will blackmail Big Dave.
Big Dave, as it turns out, is married to Ann Nirdlinger, whose family owns the store. Big Dave was planning on starting his own business, but is immediately set back after the blackmail. He confides in Ed, not suspecting him at all, about the blackmail, and the affair (although Big Dave doesn't say who). He also tells Ed that he suspects that Tolliver may be the blackmailer, since Tolliver visited Big Dave before Ed and the start-up money and the blackmail money is the same amount.
Finally, Big Dave pays up, and Ed receives the money. Ed immediately visits Tolliver, and gives him the money. Tolliver makes a pass at Ed, but Ed shoots it down. Tolliver decides to keep things at a business level, and gives Ed a contract. The next day, Ed and Doris go to Doris' cousin's wedding (she's marrying an Italian, whose race Doris despises). During the reception, Doris gets really drunk, and Ed takes her home, where she passes out. When they get home, however, Big Dave phones Ed and asks Ed to meet him at the store. Ed meets Big Dave at the store, and tensions run high.
Big Dave finds out that it was Ed who blackmailed him. As it turns out, Big Dave tracked down Tolliver and beat the information out of him (very important later). Ed tries to leave, but Big Dave attacks him. Big Dave is obviously stronger, and is strangling Ed, until Ed plunges Big Dave's cigar cutter into the side of Big Dave's neck. Big Dave grabs his wound, stumbles around, then collapses, dead. Ed leaves the scene of the crime, and acts as though nothing happened.
The next day, at the barbershop, Ed is visited by two bumbling detectives, who tell him that Doris has been arrested for murder. As it turns out, Big Dave was embezzling some money from Nirdlinger's, and Doris was the bookkeeper. Feeling the guilt, but not wanting to turn himself in, Ed turns to friend Walter Abundas (Richard Jenkins). Abundas is a small-time lawyer, and he can't help, but recommends Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shahloub), the best defense attorney in California. Ed is also intrigued by Abundas' teenage daughter, Birdy (Scarlett Johansson).
Earlier in the film, during a party, Ed heard Birdy playing some Beethoven, and was moved by her performance. At first, it seems that Ed has a thing for the young Birdy.
To afford Riedenschneider, Ed and Frank take a loan out from the bank and put the barbershop up as collateral. Ed also tries to find Tolliver, but the scam artist skips town, with the $10,000. Riedenschneider is a tough-as-nails attorney, and tries to work up a defense, but finds nothing.
Ed, feeling sorry for his wife, confesses to Reidenschneider that he killed Big Dave. Riedenschneider, being the egomaniacal attorney that he is, doesn't even remotely believe Ed and feels as though it's just some faux defense to sell to the jury. After Ed confesses, Doris looks at him, and realizes the truth.
Before the trial, however, Ed is visited by Ann, Big Dave's widow. He invites her in, but she stands at his porch, frozen, and tells Ed that a few years back, when she and Big Dave were camping in Oregon, Big Dave was abducted by a UFO, and hadn't been the same ever since. Ed just writes this off as hysteria.
On the first day of the trial, Ed and Frank wait impatiently for the judge and Doris to enter the courtroom. Finally, the judge enters, and calls counsel to the bench. Riedenschneider looks upset, and simply packs his briefcase and leaves. It turns out that Doris had hanged herself the night before with the belt from a dress that Ed sent to her in prison. Frank takes the news hard, and just stays home, drinks, and doesn't go to work. To keep the bank off his back, Ed keeps cutting hair, and even hires a new barber who talks more than Frank did. Also, a county examiner visits Ed and informs him that after an autopsy was performed on Doris, they discovered that she was pregnant. Ed says that he and Doris hadn't had sex for a long, long time. The baby was Big Dave's
During this period of time, Ed becomes more fascinated with Birdy, and her piano skills. After a talent show, Ed cooks up another idea. He wants to make Birdy a star, and become her manager, with the hopes of making a fortune. Birdy isn't really that intrigued with the idea, but Ed persists until she finally decides to humor him. Ed gets her an audition with a renowned French pianist named Carcanogues. After Birdy's recital, Carcanogues pulls Ed aside, and says that the girl is sweet and she made no mistakes, but she lacks the passion that many great pianists possess. On the drive back, Birdy apologizes if she let Ed down. Ed says she didn't, and decides to seek some more teachers for her. Birdy politely declines the offer, but is greatful. She gives Ed a kiss on the cheek, then tries to get physical. Ed is very shocked by this, and starts to swerve the car. As Birdy is trying to put her head in Ed's lap, Ed yells out, "Heavens to Betsy!" and avoids a collision with another car, but runs off the road, crashing the car.
When Ed comes to, a doctor and the two bumbling detectives from earlier are in front of him. The doctor says that Birdy is alright, nothing but a broken clavicle ("That's the collarbone!"), but the detectives tell Ed he is under arrest for murder. Ed murmurs "Big Dave?", but the detectives think he says "Okay." Actually, Ed is arrested for the murder of Creighton Tolliver.
In a very sharp twist, Tolliver's body and car are found at the bottom of a lake. He was beaten to death (by Big Dave, no doubt), but the cops found the contract that Ed signed in Tolliver's briefcase. For his trial, Ed once again calls upon Riedenschneider. To afford him, Ed puts up his house. Riedenschneider puts in a plea of not guilty, and moves the jury by outsmarting them (one of his tactics is to have the jury look into the meaning of the facts, then tell themselves that the facts are meaningless).
All is looking up, until the last day of the trial, Frank shows up and, in a rage, punches Ed to the ground.
Riedenschneider calls for a mistrial, and has the trial postponed. After that, Ed runs out of money, and Riedenschneider leaves. Ed is appointed a new attorney, who this time puts in a plea of guilty. After Riedenschneider's obnoxious closing statements, the judge is merciless, and orders Ed to be put to death. Ed is put under tight security while on death row, to make sure he doesn't do what his wife did. One night, Ed wakes up and finds the door to his cell open. He walks out, and eventually makes his way outside of the prison walls. Suddenly, a bright light shines on him, and he sees a UFO. (Very bizarre scene, I'm still trying to figure it out.)
The next day, Ed is led to the chair, where he is executed.
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