A laconic, chain-smoking barber blackmails his wife's boss and lover for money to invest in dry cleaning, but his plan goes terribly wrong.


Billy Bob Thornton plays Ed, married to Doris - Frances McDormand. Ed is a barber in small town USA in Doris' brother's shop. Ed is a chronically depressed man. He thinks Doris is having an affair with her boss at the local department store, Big Dave Nirdlinger, James Gandolfini. When a sweating nervous man turns up for a haircut, wearing a rug, and confides that he's in town to get investment for his dry-cleaning business and has just been turned down by Dave, Ed gets an idea. He decides to blackmail Dave anonymously for the amount he needs to invest in the drycleaning business... but this is not a film noir with nod to James M Cain for nothing - complications are brought to this ordinary life of quiet despair...

When I came out of this film I had two thoughts - one was how brave the Coen brothers are in what they take on as part of their creative oeuvre, and the other was how grateful I was to see a film made by people who understand their craft. Beautifully screened in black and white, courtesy of Coen Brothers' regular cinematographer, Roger Deakins, the film grounds its noir in the most ordinary people and yet makes us realise how easily such lives can go astray. The screenplay is sensational. The performances meld into the whole, Joel's direction assures us that he knows how to make a good film. What more do you want? Harry Potter?

David Stratton: The Coen Brothers' film noir isn't as likeable as some of their other films there's a chilliness to it, but it's clever and constantly intriguing. Filmed in Santa Rosa, the town where Hitchcock shot Shadow Of A Doubt in 1943, and with Billy Bob Thornton doing a fine impersonation of Joseph Cotton as the introverted, chain-smoking barber, the film has a rich assortment of characters, and a nicely ironic mood.