No Country for Old Men (2007)

Reid, 23. January 2008, 20:50

Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, etc.

I thought this was a good movie, and I enjoyed it. It may even be a great movie, but I’m not at the point where I can say with confidence. I haven’t seen all of the Coen Brothers’ films, but this could be one of the best, or at least one of my favorites. Penny said she liked this; Grace, Don and Joel gave me a lukewarm response. For the other idiots, I would say it is worth seeing. I think most of the film will engage the rest of you, even if you don’t feel completely satisfied in the end.

The film is about a ruthless killer (Javier Bardem) hunting down a man who has found and decided to steal some drug money. At the same time, the sheriff is trying to track down the man who stole the money. That may not seem that interesting, but the Coen brothers craft at structuring the escape and pursuit is top-notch. What mainstream viewers may not like is the injection of philosophical musings and even a mystical element. Thing of the way High Plains Drifter goes beyond a mainstream Western, and you get sort of similar vibe in this film.

As mentioned above the filmmaking of Brolin fleeing his pursuers is really top notch. From the moment he appears on the screen, the filmmakers had me hooked. One of the things that is great about this is that the Coen’s have a knowledge of what has happened in these type of movie situations in the past, and they avoid expectations; I found very difficult to predict where the film would lead.

There’s also some good suspenseful scenes and, for the most part, satisfying ways the hero gets out of them. I liked the way Brolin’s character hides the money and gets it out of the first motel. Another detail I appreciated was the scene where Brolin tries to drive a truck from the passenger side. Ususally in these type of movies, the filmmakers allow the character to do this successfully, which is not very realistic. I like that the Coens allow for realism and still manage to get the hero out of the situation.

Now, if the film were mainly about this chase and a showdown between Brolin and Bardem’s character that would have been a more mainstream approach (and a part of me would have wanted to see that film), but that’s really not what the Coens are interested in. (Here’s where they could lose out of typical fans of action/thrillers.)

They seem interested, instead, in evil and it’s senseless manifestations that result in a kind of horror and chaos in the world. Tommy Lee’s sheriff is the world-weary man who observes and comments on this. Right now, a part of me feels like these parts of the film feel tacked on to the main story (i.e. the chase), but I would need to analyze some key scenes particularly towards the end: what was the significance of the sheriff’s conversation with characters at the end, specifically the the other law enforcement officer near the end of the film and his uncle(?). I also need to figure out the significance of the sheriff’s dreams–one about losing money that he was given (I think) and the other about he and his dad riding on horses with his dad carrying a horn of fire into the darkness. To me, the latter was meant as a sign of hope in the darkness of the world.

Back to the conversations. The nature of the conversations mostly seemed to deal with the insanity and violence in the world. The sheriff just didn’t want any part of it–which was one of the reasons why he was retiring.

Also in the beginning of the film, the sheriff talks a boy who killed his girlfriend, and how he wanted to understand that. He didn’t, but he just had to be a part of the world, or something to that effect. At this point, these scenes signify that Tommy Lee (and the filmmakers perhaps) don’t really know the reason for violence and chaos in the world; they just know it seems to be an essential and inexplicable part of it (Bardem’s seems indestructible.)

What the filmmakers say about violence/destruction perhaps may be the most interesting. What they seem to say is that there is such a thing as karma–that your actions have consequenes; “those who live by the sword die by the sword” and probably get other innocent people killed in the process (Llewellyn’s wife). Perhaps, that’s not right, since some Bardem kills some innocent people that have nothing to do with the drug money–the guy who gets pulled over; the hotel attendant.

So maybe the filmmakers are saying that this force of violence happens and it’s not something we can understand, reason or negotiate with (”You don’t have to do this.”) The best explanation for the reason this force acts is chance. That’s not very satisfying treatment of these themes, if that, indeed, is all there is to it.

But Bardem turns in a good performance as Chiguur, who has that mystical quailty similar to Eastwood’s character in High Plains Drifter.

Oh, one other scene that I have to evaluate–the scene where the sheriff goes into the room with Chiguur (the grim reaper?) hiding behind the door. There’s the light streaming through the shot out lock and there’s Chiguur hiding behind the door with a shaft of light framing him. The sherrif sense the danger and cautiously enters in and eventually sits down on the bed. Nothing happens to him. I need to figure out the significance of that scene, too.

No County for Old Men: Can’t really say I “loved it!” because of all the killing, etc., but thought it was very, very good movie. Addresses the question whether our choices or capricious fate determine our future. Also about the evil in this world…where does it come from. Awesome acting and directing. Grace made a great comment about how the Cohen brothers like to pick up a rock and put a microscope to what’s crawling around beneath it. It was a combination of that kind of laser focus (the parts that had me squirming in my seat) mixed in with larger issues about the evil in mankind and fate’s role in our lives. Some dynamic panoramic views, but I kept thinking, “if Ang Lee directed this, it would have blown me away.” Anyway, still definitely a great movie to discuss. There is a lot there.

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