No Country For Old Men
Normally if I came out of a screening and heard someone say
“Well I think the villain was the personification of the devil”
I’d be morally bound to kick the pious fucker down the stairs, and then shiv whoever made a ‘This Is SPARRTTAAA” joke. Being that this is t’internet you should put your real world gauze over that least sentence and read it instead as ‘I’d be morally bound to remain perfectly silent and think unkind thoughts about the pious fucker’. The shivving would really happen; it’s what Leonidas would want.
Surprisingly coming out of ‘No Country For Old Men’ I found myself not enraged by that exact sentiment. Perhaps it was because my rage-o-meter was all tuckered out from flaring at the people loudly calling the quiet note the film ends on ‘total bullshit, man’.
What’s wounding about this reaction is how rapt the audience had been prior. It’s as if any break from convention, even if within the end minutes of a movie, can destroy the film inextricably for people. What’s frustrating is that people aren’t going to walk out of ‘No Country For Old Men’ talking excitedly about the stuff to placate them, the awesome dialogue, the brutal violence, the palpable tension, the terrifying as a pit bull with an attitude main villain, they’re going to be talking about how much the film sucked, all because it dared to get a little metaphysical in its third act.
But you can’t say metaphysical without physical so it’s probably fare to actually talk about the nuts and bolts of the movie first.
For starters it’s the latest film from the Coen Brothers which automatically makes it something at least a little special. By my reckoning they’re the greatest living American directors, with a slew of future classics to their name with only the occasional glitch blighting their record. If I say that ‘Miller’s Crossing’, ‘Fargo’ and ‘The Big Lebowski’ are great films, you’ll understand how highly I speak of ‘No Country For Old Men’ when I call it a superb movie. It’s pretty much their masterpiece; the kind of film which you know is going to become part of the cinematic language after one viewing.
Working from a novel by Cormac McCarthy the Coens ditch the wacky edge of their more populist work, going back to the sparser work of their debut film Blood Simple. In fact ‘Blood Simple’ and ‘No Country For Old Men’ are so simple, so pure, so visceral and intense that it’s hard to reconcile them with the frothier elements of their Filmography.
It’s a hard film to review, largely because it is such a great piece of cinema that it’s almost painful to spoil anything in it. There’s richness to the film, a depth of content and tone that needs to be experience firsthand, so forgiveness if I skirt around the edges a little bit.
The story is pretty much your standard ‘Man Takes Money Which Doesn’t Belong To Him, Shit Proceeds To Get Fucked Up’ fare. In the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really matter, largely because the film is far more character study than traditional thriller.
The majority of the film is a cat and mouse chase between Llewellyn Moss, a hunter who has the good sense to know that taking the money is probably going to make his life forfeit but still takes it on the slim chance he’ll survive, and Chigurh who is the definition of menace topped off with a bad haircut. Despite different factions appearing the film never really loses its focus from these two characters until the last twenty minutes, every peripheral character (aside from one) is filtered through these two men and the consequence is that the film feels incredibly close at all times.
What’s fascinating is that the film makes it perfectly clear from the offset that Moss is out of his league. His journey in the film is not one of escape, but one of finality. Every action he takes only delays the inevitable. It’s a good thing he does have a thing for delaying the inevitable though, because his thrashings on the hook provide some of 2007s most riveting scenes.
Centred largely on Anton Chigurh the few scenes of violence in the film are so brutal, so honest, and so nasty and mean that it creates a palpable sense of dread and unease. Chigurh becomes more than a man in the film; he becomes an ethos, an unrelenting force which destroys everything in its path on general principal. Played pitch perfectly by Javier Bardem, Chigurh is a truly threatening and intimidating force on the screen. Fearless, ruthless, cold blooded, and oddly human. We’re given rare insight into his method, scenes which show the careful planning required for his flawless attacks, and it just makes him even scarier. There’s just something unnerving about his planning and his innate ability which makes every scene with him in unbearably tense and every scene without him creates nagging doubts and fears that he might just be around the corner.
It’s a testament to the deliberate tone of the film that Chigurh is never allowed to become ‘badass’, in the hands of lesser directors the character could consume the film in a negative way. As it is even when he’s employing cool pieces of weaponry (No Country marks the first time I’ve ever seen a silenced shotgun and it’s a fucking marvellous piece of kit, terrifying but marvellous) you’re still never cheering for or getting excited by the violence. You just want it to stop, which isn’t to say the film is totally joyless. It’s a hard film, but there is the trademark Coen wit. The humour’s there it’s just blacker than a moonless night.
Up until about an hour and forty minutes into the film ‘No Country For Old Men’ is a massively crowd pleasing movie. It’s got a nice traditional narrative, a likeable main character, a bit of police procedural, frenetic shoot outs and insane amounts of tensions. The last twenty minutes either elevate the film to greatness or sully the entire experience. In my eyes it’s the perfect summation of what the film is about, but it’s such a drastic change of pace and does such shocking things to what has been a traditional narrative that it’s kinda easy to see how lesser minded moviegoers might have issues.
In my eyes when a man checking his shoes is the only confirmation that a major character has been killed then a film has entered great heights, but the sudden lack of punch, the cutaway from the ‘good bits’ is going to drive a lot of people insane.
But they deserve to be unhappy.