As usual with Coen Brothers films, The Man Who Wasn't There is visually stunning, and has it's share of odd touches and sublime moments that set the film makers from the rest of the herd, but I thought it was the least interesting of their films.
The varying elements of a James Cain flavored noir thriller filtered through Camus-toned existentialism and the zany insertion of UFOs makes me think of bright guys brain storming against deadline; much of the meaning of Coen Brothers movies is open ended and deferred, but this film just couldn't merge the oddities. Billy Bob Thorton, though, needs special credit for maintaining his granite faced deadpan in a film full of eagerly demonstrative actors. He portrays his emotionally somnolent barber with less expression than a pair of pliers left at the bottom of a over-stuffed drawer in a typically crowded work bench; like the pliers, this is a man who is forgotten, anonymous , virtually invisible despite being part of the everyday scenery.His flat effect is so consistent and untouched by a hint of actorish style that you can well imagine the character relishing the burn in the throat and the coughing and hacking that result in the excess because it is one of the things that might penetrate his otherwise impenetrable numbness.
He he clips hair, sweeps up the clippings, and chain smokes his way through the film, Thorton's already sunken cheeks and general skull-hugging features take on the grisly isolation of a long abandoned building under the movies effectively baroque use of high contrast black and white. Still, this has the feeling of an exercise, a project to keep their hands in the game while the brothers Coen finesse their next major project. Visually gratifying, but the movie bombs over all because there is nothing inspiring in the plot to make the movie seem like another more than an empty stage.