No Country for Old Men

    The Coen Brothers are among the most consistent filmmakers in the American independent movement. Which is quite an achievement when you consider that they are also among the most adventurous. From their early triumphs of Blood Simple and Raising Arizona to the glories of Fargo and The Man Who Wasn’t There, at worst a Coen Brothers films is interesting. At best they provide a look into the quirky dark underbelly of America.
    No Country for Old Men is their first attempt at adapting a literary source, or second if you believe that O Brother Where Art Thou is an adaptation of The Odyssey. No Country is based on a Cormac McCarthy novel. I’m not familiar with McCarthy’s work but what little I’ve heard indicates that his vision and the Coen’s is a good fit.
    In the movie, Llewelyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin is a welder scraping by in the west Texas desert. While out hunting one day, he comes across a brutal scene of a massacre with several trucks, one of them filled with heroin, and lots of bodies scattered around. He follows a trail of footprints and blood and finds another body with a satchel of money beside it. Moss seeing a way to provide for himself and his wife takes the money. This leads to a considerable amount of trouble because looking for the money is a gangster named Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem with a bad haircut. Chigurh is ruthless and efficient, with no compunctions about slaughtering innocents that get in his way. But he also has a quirky sense of honor and will sometimes give his victims a fifty fifty chance by flipping a coin. He must have read Batman comics as a kid and really liked Two Face. Most of the time, he uses an air gun like they use in slaughterhouses, an apt metaphor.
    Pursuing both of them is sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Bell is an example of the old men of the title. He hasn’t quite seen it all but fears he’s about to when he works the massacre site. The casual cruelty of the incident has him thinking the world is changing and he’s unable to keep up. Retirement is looming larger and larger in his thoughts.
    That’s the set up for a standard action flick and Coen’s do nothing to make you believe that No Country is anything but that until almost the end. It’s then that the twists and turns straighten out and this film becomes a meditation on violence or more specifically the interface between the violently criminal classes and decent folk. If you’re a member of the latter, you should probably avoid the former.
    The thing is that the Coen brothers could make a really great action film if they wanted to. There are moments in No Country where the tension is unbearable. Llewelyn is a likable, smart and scrappy protagonist, while Chigurh is chilling and hyper competent. The brothers, however, like to push the audience out of it’s comfort zone. And that’s what they do here.
    They use tremendous performances from Josh Brolin, who’s gaining quite a collection of good performances. Javier Bardem takes a cliche from the action genre, the philosophy spewing hitman, and makes it scary and fresh. Tommy Lee Jones is in familiar territory here, playing the haggard authority figure. It’s not a stretch, but it’s always fun to watch.
    Roger Deakins’s cinematography captures the dust and grit of West Texas perfectly and the script by the brothers is full of their trademark dark humor. The only drawback is that the transition at the end isn’t as smooth as it could be. Things get confusing. This is a choice on the part of the Coen’s but it drew me out of the film.
    Don’t expect to be uplifted by this film. The ending leaves you emotionally confused. There are so many thrills along the way and then it just stops, no fanfare, no climax; the moral equations remain unbalanced. No Country for Old Men is totally amoral and the only thing resembling hope is the fact that things aren’t getting worse as sheriff Bell fears. They’ve always been this bad.


0 Responses to “No Country for Old Men”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

December 2007
« Nov   Jan »

Recent Comments

theotherebert on Black Panther
Mark Anderson on Black Panther
Chuck Ebert on Roman J. Israel, ESQ
Mark Anderson on Roman J. Israel, ESQ
Thomas Van Horne on Spider-Man: Homecoming

Blog Stats

  • 35,975 hits

%d bloggers like this: