Tuesday, January 15, 2008
“No Country For Old Men”
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Based on the Novel by: Cormac McCarthy
Since the beginning, Joel and Ethan Coen have made a certain kind of film…Dark, quirky, thematic, and normally an intensely focused piece of work. The Coen brothers have used a mainstay of actors throughout their films, which typically gives them their own signature.
Usually, I spot a Coen brothers film by the presence of actor John Turturro (I mean, c’mon, he’s entertaining, but name a movie he was in that WASN’T directed by the Coen brothers).
I haven’t seen every single one of their films, either. Their calling card, “Blood Simple,” is constantly referred to as a classic piece of crime cinema and I only recently saw “Miller’s Crossing,” which was, as they said, a good show.
However, I have seen enough of their work to recognize their style, wit, dialogue, and technique. From their bloody good shoot-outs, to oddball characters just shy of a David Lynch film, and their staged-yet-organic sets, I know a Coen brothers movie when I see it.
So, what’s the verdict? Does “No Country For Old Men” deliver the Coen goods? In a word…yes. In a longer, more descriptive explanation, read on.
I did not read the Cormac McCarthy novel in which the film is based (nor have I read anything by Cormac McCarthy for that matter…and I certainly won’t be starting with “All The Pretty Horses”).
However, after seeing this film, I happened upon the book and took a gander to see how closely it followed. For one, it’s interesting to spot the similarities...For two, there is a lot left unsaid and unseen in the film that leaves you guessing to high hell. The book seems to only offer small glimpses (as is usually the case) and does not resolve what you may hope for.
Anyone that has had a toe-to-toe discussion with me on movies, in particular the ‘happy ending’ or full-on-tell-me-everything ending knows that it annoys me to no end. The bottom line is; some movies are fine with it and some need that open end.
For this one it’s a mixed bag…I won’t spoil anything by telling you that you are left with a lot to chew on when the credits roll. That can be very frustrating for today’s movie-going public. For me, it’s a double-edged sword. A part of me wanted confrontation and justice and a nice little wrap up. The other part felt that what I was given was reality, the true nature of things, that it isn’t always the cowboy shoot-out ending that we come to expect.
Real life offers us the truth of our heroes…the deep, scarring flaws that the majority of our heroes carry…
Which brings me to the next aspect of “No Country For Old Men.” The search for a hero. As the movie unfolds, we follow Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin, in his best role to date), a Vietnam vet cum blue collar worker who is out hunting when he stumbles on the scene of a massive drug deal gone wrong…a scene scattered with parked trucks and dead men with weapons still in their hands…and most importantly…a truck bed full of drugs and a suitcase of cash.
You can’t gauge what any character does in this film and it’s brilliant that way. Llewelyn surveys the scene and you watch with great anticipation as the thoughts roll through your brain as to what you would do in his boots. Llewelyn takes the cash, which isn’t all that surprising, considering human nature.
In the course of taking the money, he happens upon a barely alive Mexican in one of the trucks. The man pleads for water, but Llewelyn doesn’t have any and shrugs the man off, leaving him to nature’s will. But, later that night, Llewelyn’s conscience gets the best of him and he returns to the scene with a jug of water.
However, now the man is dead and the drugs that were in the bed of the truck are gone. The scene has been visited once again. Before Llewelyn can leave for good, he finds himself visited upon by two men in a truck…and holding guns. Llewelyn takes off and barely avoids their wrath. At this point Llewelyn realizes he will have to go on the lam in order to keep what he found.
The character of Llewelyn is not easily defined. You can’t explain why he does what he does or his logic behind it. You want, more than anything, to root for this guy. He seems like a cool enough customer, a down-range sort of guy with the smarter than the average joe mentality. He harbors a toughness that can only be built on deep, wounding experience, much like what he would accrue in Vietnam.
Here is where the film decides to play you. You have two other ‘leads’ that are vying for your attention and emotional investment. Tommy Lee Jones plays a local Sheriff who is investigating the mysterious disappearance of Llewelyn Moss. He, like Moss, is a cool customer, a lawman who you can’t imagine in anything but that sheriff’s uniform. He has a slow drawl and a quick wit. His silence says more than his words. Now, you find yourself rooting for the sheriff to crack the case, help Llewelyn and bring justice to the case.
Then, we have Javier Bardem playing the brilliant Chigurh, a psychopathic hitman who was, at one time, hired to find Moss and bring back the missing suitcase of cash, but instead decides to hunt Moss to keep the money for himself, leaving a trail of dead people in his wake. Chigurh (pronounced like ‘sugar’) kills without conscience or remorse and turns death into a game, offering some would-be victims the chance to live at the toss of a coin.
Bardem is amazing in this film. He embodies what you would expect of a psychopath…Random, calculating, sadistic, and devoid of emotion. It will be a long time before someone tops this performance and Bardem deserves any accolades he receives for this performance. This motherfucker is scary. Plain and simple. Amazing work.
As we are tug-of-warred between whom to root for (although, truth be told, I never once felt the urge to shout for Chigurh), the movie unfolds at a slow and earthly pace. Everything is organic and ‘in the moment.’ There is nothing more than a slow, distant drone of music scattered throughout the film, which is instead imbued with the sounds of the world…howling wind, the crunch of boot to rock, rubber to road, and the creak of doors being opened slowly.
This movie breathes and sometimes you can feel it breathing down your neck with anxious intensity. I found myself cringing as the stakes got higher, as Chigurh got closer to Moss, as the sheriff got closer to them both, waiting for that moment, waiting for the big confrontation, waiting for the showdown…
The payoff? Well, I can’t say. It would be hard to ruin the film, but I think if I divulged certain details it may deter you from seeing the film (or perhaps draw you closer), but the bottom line is…this is a brilliant film that delivers on so many levels; character, intensity, raw emotion and violence that are served up cold and real, without the usual action grandstanding of a typical thriller.
It’s really hard to categorize this film…My best effort; a character driven western thriller. There is a lot left to interpret and the ending is open-ended, leaving you with your thoughts at a high anticipation level and most likely disappointed…but ultimately, when you process it all, you’ll likely feel like you have just taken a trip into a nightmarish situation that you would never want to face yourself, but were glad to see and not suffer the consequences…this is what makes great cinema and “No Country For Old Men,” is just that.
MOVIE GRADE: A-