Monday, January 28, 2008 03:29 PM
On the Viewer - No Country for Old Men
 by Fëanor

As part of our "Man Day" activities on Saturday, my brother I went and saw this film. Holy crap.

I am a long time fan of the Coen brothers. I think the only movie of theirs I haven't seen is The Ladykillers. And of them all, almost every one is an absolutely excellent, near-perfect film. No Country for Old Men is no exception. Of their other films, it's probably most like Fargo and Blood Simple, but in many ways it's surprisingly devoid of a lot of their usual stylistic quirks. Also, unlike Fargo and Blood Simple, none of the main characters in this film is stupid, and rarely do any of them make stupid mistakes. It's a mostly straight, linear film about a group of smart, tough people playing a deadly game with each other, each according to his own rules, trying to work out each other's moves in advance, and destroying lots of other people in the process.

Our main character is a man named Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) who is out hunting in the middle of the wilderness when he comes upon a drug deal gone bad and decides to take the money. It's the mistake of his life, because a cold-blooded killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who follows his own strange set of principles (and who uses his own strange set of weapons) is also after the money, and he will stop at nothing to get it. Meanwhile, local sherriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to untangle just what's really going on, and trying to save anyone he can from the seemingly endless carnage. The film also stars Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn's beleagured wife and Woody Harrelson as a hitman familiar with Chigurh who is sent in to try to reign him in.

It should almost go without saying that the film is written, directed, and edited with incredible skill and artfulness. It's an intense, punishing, violent film that moves forward with deliberate solemnity (and the occasional flash of sarcastic humor) towards its sad and inevitable conclusion. The acting is also universally excellent. Tommy Lee Jones' performance is especially real and moving, and his final scene is particularly powerful.

The meaning and theme of the film is in its title: life on the edge of things is dark and hard and violent and only a young man could have the strength to fight his way through it, and the optimism to believe he can possibly live happily ever after.

So yeah, not exactly an upper. Worse, the movie leaves you with a lot of questions unanswered. At least, explicitly. I can make an educated guess as to who has the money at the end, who gets away, and who's dead. But you have to make a guess; the Coens don't hand anything to you. They make you work for it. It's a tough movie, but a well made one. And it haunts you.

No Country for Old Men is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy. I'm not familiar with the man or his work, but now I'm curious, especially since a couple more of his novels are now in the process of being adapted into films. Although, poppy tells me all of his stuff is as dark and brutal as No Country for Old Men, and I'm not sure I can deal with that.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)

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