Archive for the Americana Category

Indiana Jones and the Geeky Blog Entry

Posted in Americana, Movies, Spike vs. His DVD Collection with tags , , on March 4, 2008 by Spike Marshall

Indy Jones - ShadowThis weekend I’ve mostly been cursing the gods of technology as I waged all out war against a posse of brutal Trojans hiding on my computer. After 48 hours of Spyware Checks, Antivirus Runs and Registry Clean Ups, I’ve managed to remove the blasted things (ironically it only took me 20 minutes to sort everything after being sensible and googling some instructions on how to clear a specific virus which had burrowed itself deep into my system archive).Subsequently I was left with large blocks of time in-between the routine of switching to safe mode, spyware/malware checking, rebooting, weeping, and switching back to safe mode. I intended to use this Mobius Strip to catch up on my DVD viewing, but instead opted to watch the Indiana Jones trilogy for the first time in four years. Here are some vague essays and ruminations on each of the films and my thoughts on the trailer for new film The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Indiana Jones

If you ever get a chance to read The Art of Bond you’ll quickly find out that Steven Spielberg has always been desperate to make a James Bond film, even asking series producer Cubby Broccoli twice if he could have the privilege of helming a Bond film. It was this passion for Bond which most likely persuaded him to undertake the collaboration with George Lucas that would become Indiana Jones. Although Indiana Jones is influenced more by old Republic Serials than anything else there are certain elements which make the films seem like an American James Bond. In fact movie folklore suggests that Raiders of the Lost Ark was fleshed out in Hawaii during a conversation between Lucas and Spielberg after Spielberg had confessed of his wish to direct a James Bond film.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Its sequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom would usher in an entirely new rating for American cinema distribution, but on rewatching the trilogy it is Raiders of the Lost Ark which seems the most adult and brutal of the films. Whilst Temple of Doom is more of an overt horror film than Raiders it is also a lot more fantastical, Raiders has a certain grittiness to it which makes the fights a lot more scrappy and brutish. There’s a scene where Indiana is shot in the arm by a Nazi soldier and then has the gunshot wound repeatedly pounded on, his attackers knuckles becoming increasingly bloody with each visceral blow. It’s a scene that is all the more nasty due to Harrison Ford who yelps and screams his way through Raiders and in doing so adds a lot more humanity to the film

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Harrison Ford holds Raiders of the Lost Ark together, providing a consistent presence in a film that is at times utterly disparate. If you took five minutes from the beginning, five minutes from the middle and five minutes and showed them next to each other you’d swear they were different films. Even the film stock seems to change, which does tie in with the idea of an updated serial. The problem of this disparity is that the quality of the film is constantly changing as well. It may be sacrilegious but I actually think that the start of Raiders isn’t all that great. It only really finds it feet when the action switches to Marion’s bar in Nepal (Indy’s silhouette on the bar wall is also a far more effective introduction to the character than the jungle opening).

The opening in the jungle just serves as a statement of intent; it’s defining what sort of character Indy is and what type of world he lives in. The problem is that it’s all a little inorganic and it immediately distances us from Indiana by having the action be seen from the viewpoint of his traitorous assistant. The opening traps may be iconic, but they’re defining the world

nazi.jpgThe conversation with the US government agents and his subsequent interactions with Marion are what shape the character. The following hour is probably the greatest action movie ever made, the search and subsequent chase for the Ark of the Covenant presented almost perfectly. It helps that this hour has four absolutely fantastic set pieces. The bar fight in Nepal, the extended chase around the streets of Cairo, the fight in and around a flying wing and the classic truck chase are all examples of fantastically exciting and character driven action sequences. The truck chase in particular is still incredible even 27 years after it was made.

Having the second act loaded with action leaves a problem for the third act, a director either has to come up with an even more impressive spectacle or have a more downbeat denouement. The ending of Raiders sidesteps this by having the climax be predicated on self destruction; Indiana does absolutely nothing at the end. He just follows his instincts and is spared, his intellect finally getting a chance to shine over his determined physicality. Having the film be resolved with a literal interpretation of ‘deus ex machina’ is probably the only way an ending could have been satisfying, it is also kinda hard to argue with a ‘deus ex machina’ ending when it allows graphic portrayals of melting Nazis and exploding French archaeologists.

toht.jpgWhat’s amazing is that the films which tried to ape Raiders of the Lost Ark always paid more attention to the opening tomb raiding scenes and didn’t look at the bits that audiences actually responded to. What makes Raiders work are the extended scenes where Indiana is playing off against other people, whether it be verbally sparring with his rival Belloq, bickering with Sallah or feeding Nazi’s into the rotary mechanism of a flying wing. It’s these moments of humanity which make Indiana Jones so loved, people don’t associate the character with superhuman feats of daring, they associate the character with shooting a swordsman, or struggling to hold onto a truck, or getting constantly outmanoeuvred. It’s this innate failure, the inability to take control of a situation that makes him so relatable to audiences.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

sheehs.jpgTemple of Doom continues this policy of humanity through strife, with an opening that has Indiana getting poisoned, shot at, and making his escape on a plane scheduled to crash in India. From the moment the film starts you realise it’s a different beast to Raiders. For one thing it looks far glossier and it generally just seems a lot slicker. Opening with a dance number, which segues into a club fight, which segues into a motor chase, which segues into a plane crash the film never lets up pace in its first act. Bizarrely set a year before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark the film seems to operate in a completely different reality to the rest of the trilogy and the result is that it feels like a diversion more than anything else.

In fact Temple of Doom‘s opening seems more like a Bond film than anything else, the world weary archaeologist of Raiders replaced with a charming, highly skilled, and well connected adventurer. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s a difference that is apparent when watching the films back to back. Certainly you wouldn’t expect the Indiana of Raiders of the Lost Ark to be trading in valuable relics for what appears to be a run of the mill (if spectacularly huge) diamond.

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The opening in Club Obi-Wan sets the tone for Temple of Doom, with a peculiar mixture of horrific violence, Indy plunging a flaming kebab into a villain’s chest, and broad slapstick, the ensuing balloon fight and scramble for antidote. Temple of Doom is a far more comedic film than Raiders of the Lost Ark but it’s also a film that prides itself on the horrific. It’s a film with a wisecracking kid sidekick that happens to feature people getting their hearts ripped out by demented Indian priests.

Despite being the film which would usher in the PG-13 rating,due to its mature content, it’s actually the Indiana Jones

film which seems to be aimed squarely at children. The child centric cast and the films utter delight in the gross and grotesque makes it seem like a children’s movie with a few throwaway elements for parents to appreciate. Elements like the food gags (which essentially boils down to the fact that foreign people ate gross food) just reinforce this notion.

bug.jpgThat’s not to say that Temple of Doom is a bad film, it’s a fantastic piece of escapist entertainment and once again it shows a level of imagination and technical skill which has yet to be really challenged. But compared to its compatriots it just feels too light and from a geeky point of view just seems wrong. Its chronology just seems really arbitrary, especially when you have gags which reference the original film.

But Doom also has some truly great moments, the aforementioned mine cart chase truly is something to behold and Molar Ram is a truly terrifying foe, despite his lack of screen time. It’s just that it all ends up feeling like a more splattery Chris Columbus movie and you expect more from an Indiana Jones film.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Whereas Temple of Doom seemed like a diversion for the trilogy, Last Crusade acts like a direct thematic sequel to Raiders. Like the earlier film Crusade is a globe trotting race against the Nazi’s to claim a godly artefact.

fire.jpgWhen I was growing up Last Crusade was always my favourite film, even with the prospect of melting Toht, in the trilogy. Even today I recognise that Raiders is probably the better made film, but for about two thirds of its running time The Last Crusade is one of my all time favourite films. Whilst I’m particularly fond of the ‘Young Indiana Jones’ segment at the start, everything after until the climatic battle on the tank is just fantastic. Of course there’s the problem of nostalgia with a film like this, especially because it’s one of the first films I ever saw in a cinema.

This of course makes it hard to write about in an objective sense, I mean it’s hardly fair to try and analyse something which has the weight of childhood warmth maintaining an illusion of quality. What Last Crusade does is create a middle ground between the ‘serious business’ of Raiders and the broad comedic spectacle of Doom. It’s funnier than Raiders, but it’s also got the thrust and momentum that Doom lacked at points.

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By thrust and momentum I’m talking more about pacing than content, and pacing is the thing that Last Crusade utterly nails. It’s constantly showing off new stuff, new stunts, new gags, new set pieces, new puzzles, it never really stops for breath and as such it’s easy to get swept up in the films momentum and not notice that at times it seems like an obvious retread of Raiders.

The defining quality of the film is the central relationship between Indiana and his father Henry Jones (played by Sean Connery) who are forced to work together to stop the Nazi’s obtaining the Holy Grail. Henry and Indiana are not on the best of terms; with Indiana trying to constantly win his fathers respect and generally shocking him with his recklessness. There’s a great deal of fun to be had from the conflicting personalities and having Indy fearing constant disapproval from his father adds yet more humanity to the character.

This relationship distracts from what is a rather weak overall story, which borrows the plot progression of Raiders wholesale. The minutiae save the film in a lot of ways, with fantastic set pieces at every juncture. The obvious standouts are the motorcycle chase and the battle in and around a tank, but Last Crusade has a wealth of great little moments. Compared to Raiders it’s still decidedly light and the ending once again takes the resolution out of Indiana Jones hands, which while effective once just seems to be stretching on a second go around.

tank.jpgLike Raiders the main set piece of the film occurs way before the end, in this case the ten minute long tank segment. This segment is probably one of my all time favourite action set pieces, just because there’s so much going on. But it’s the little moments amid the chaos which really sell the scene, like Indiana using his whip to stop Henry Jones from being crushed under the tank tracks. Amidst all the destruction, the explosions, fights and bloodshed it’s that moment that sticks in my mind when I think of Indiana Jones in general. What makes Indiana Jones isn’t the stunt work, it’s the heart, and that’s why nothing has really come close to it.

Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

http://www.indianajones.com/site/index.html

crystalskullteaserposter.jpgYou can find the official trailer for Indiana Jones 4 at the above link.

It’s nice to know what there’s a new Indiana Jones film being made; the feeling is amplified after seeing the trilogy over the weekend. Born in 1985, the Indiana Jones films were key elements of my childhood and so I’m genuinely excited about a new film.

The knives are already out (go to any message board and you’ll see maddeningly dull threads complaining about Jones quipping and the CGIing of Ray Winstone’s trousers) for the production, largely because the collective geek intelligence wants George Lucas to fail. Making average to mediocre films is a crime for which he will never be forgiven and if Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is anything less than perfect then a lot more childhoods are going to be raped.

I don’t particularly have a problem with Lucas, I think he’s a great conceptualist, but then I never viewed the original Star Wars films as anything but frothy kids films. Ideas wise the guy is great and partnered up with Spielberg he’s never delivered a bad film. So here’s to hoping for some more Indiana Jones greatness come May.

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There Will Be Blood

Posted in Americana, Movies, Ruminations with tags , , on February 23, 2008 by Spike Marshall

Would You Kindly Click This Link For Some Appropriate Background Music.

I was going to attempt to review There Will Be Blood as I’d done, ineptly, with The Assassination of Jesse James and No Country For Old Men. But I really don’t think I can say much about the film which isn’t already painfully obvious, at least not without spoilers. There Will Be Blood is a legitimately great film, filmed with precision and beauty and bolstered by another stand out performance from Daniel Day-Lewis and a potential career best performance from Paul Dano. P T Anderson has crafted some truly incredible films, but this probably ranks as his most triumphant success and it marks 2007 as a year defined by great contemporary American cinema. And from here on in I’m just going to muse more than anything else so naturally there be SPOILERS ABOUND.

Daniel Plainview watches as his oil derrick burns to the ground, a natural gas eruption costing his son the use of his ears and setting back his operation. As thick smoke turns night to day and panic sweeps the site, he kneels enraptured by the flame. The shot turns and shows Plainview in utter darkness, nothing distinguishable save for the glow of flame on his face. The object of his desire, his singular focus in life, giving him his only presence in the shot, giving him presence in the world. It is an incredible piece of economical filmmaking, a singular shot explaining all you need to know about the central character of There Will Be Blood.

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Plainview actually explains this later on, in his grandstanding speech with his brother, and it is a rare example of the film overstating a situation. Daniel Day-Lewis gives Plainview so much as an actor in his portrayal of Plainview that a verbal explanation of his traits seems to be almost handholding. Plainview is a creature of instinct, animalistic and dangerous, who hides behind a well honed façade. He’s a primal character and as such grand declarations of psychoanalysis don’t really sit well with the character. As such the performance is based around very physical traits and Anderson plays to this at numerous times.

The silent opening ten minutes tell you a lot about Plainview, about his mindset and determination and how dangerous he is. Plainview is a character we can understand effortlessly, partially because of how nuanced the performance is and partially because he is a representation of something primal and twisted within most men. What makes Plainview magnetic is how human he is in his inhumanity, his goals and ambitions as presented onscreen are monstrous but they’re also believable. There’s an innate truth to the character which makes him exceptionally easy to accept.

Plainview’s rival in the film, the young preacher Eli Sunday, is a character who will be most disassociated from the audience. He faces a natural disadvantage in that There Will Be Blood is ostensibly Plainview’s story (if I remember correctly Plainview is only actually absent from one or two scenes in the entire film) so he has a dominant amount of screen time. As such despite the fact that both men are manipulators (Plainview’s sweet-talk to buy land and Eli’s spiritual healing and communion with god) only Plainview is shown away from his façade. The film is entirely about Plainview, the Jonny Greenwood’s incredible soundtrack even seems to score Plainview’s state of mind rather than the onscreen action, and as such Eli is little more than context to that character.

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When I say Eli is context to Plainview I don’t mean to disparage the character, it is just that the way he is constructed and portrayed is more about setting up a mirror to Plainview and drawing out his emotions than presenting the story of the Sunday family. Eli is a character who thinks he can play the game, who thinks he has enough sway to manipulate the situation to his liking. In a way the movie charts how this belief in his own abilities and his inexperience with what he is dabbling in ultimately destroys Eli, both psychically and philosophically (with Plainview quenching Eli’s faith moments before seeking a more hands on resolution).

In a lot of ways Eli represents an intellectual counterpoint to Plainview’s intuitive nature. Eli thinks he can outsmart Plainview, and his few acts of attrition are all mental attacks. In doing so he underestimates Plainview’s resolve and underlying intelligence. Plainview is animalistic, but his façade is developed enough to allow him to match Eli at every turn. His final brutish actions being interspersed with the conniving wordplay and dramatics that were once Eli’s trade. More than anything Eli is desperate to be accepted by people, who want to prove his superiority to and be better than his peers. Plainview in contrast is a character who wants to isolate himself, who is willing to deal with people only as long he has too.

By stepping into Plainview’s home, Eli sacrifices the one advantage he had. In the outside world Plainview had to maintain pretence of humanity, hidden in his own home he is allowed to be the beast that is hinted at throughout the film. Plainview, with no profit to be gained from maintaining his persona, destroys Eli utterly. Taunting the preacher, mimicking his church performances with crazed fits and gaudy sermonizing, before beating him to death.

Ouroboros

Posted in Americana, Movies, Ruminations with tags , on February 11, 2008 by Spike Marshall

I watched Annie Hall today. It’s a seminal film, funny, intelligent, beautifully shot, incredibly acted. It’s a film which should speak to me, a film which has influenced dozens of my favourite films and which has crafted a thousand bad impersonations.

And it’s a film I just can’t get on with.

My feelings towards Annie Hall have absolutely nothing to do with the film itself, like I said I can recognise it’s a truly great piece of cinema. The problem was that everything felt old hat, which is odd considering this was the first time I’d seen the movie. The problem is how influential the film was and how it would go on to shape the cinematic landscape in the years that followed its release.

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It’s partially my fault, I grew up transfixed by the numerous ‘Top 100 *Insert Genre Here* Films of All Time’ shows that clogged up terrestrial TV. Living in the UK it was pretty hard to get away from them but if you managed to somehow avoid the madness the shows were essentially clip shows. Some nebulous list of films would be formed, and then clips from said films would be shown with celebrity voiceovers explaining why the film was so great.

They’re a great form of cheap and entertaining television; the problem is that the nature of the show requires scenes from the films to be shown in their entirety. Sometimes you can get up to ten minutes worth of footage from a single show. Take into account how many variants on this format there were and it becomes easy to see how a film could be comparatively spoiled. What these shows aim to do is give a flavour of the films they showcase, and as such certain scenes are always repeated. For example whenever Taxi Driver is listed you’ll get the ‘You Talkin’ To Me’ sequence and the ‘Porn Theatre’ sequence, largely because they’re the most well known and most easily quantifiable moments of the film. Showing segments of a film like Taxi Driver is fine; it gives a taste of the film but doesn’t really give away the entire film.

With Annie Hall, it’s essentially episodic nature and wide variety of quotable scenes meant that its entire running time was essentially shown. The cocaine gag will always get played, that’s an archetypal moment of Annie Hall and it’s an easy to get joke. The problem was that by showing key sequences out of context you’ve already had one key elements of Annie Hall removed.

Watching Annie Hall when you’ve already seen the cocaine gag, the subtitles bit, the ticket line bit, the dual therapy segment and Christopher Walken’s entire part is a hard experience. The more overt jokes in Annie Hall help to balance against the more serious elements of the story. There’s a constant vein of humour which runs throughout Annie Hall but the more obvious jokes serve as punctuation and break up the neurosis a little. When these jokes are already ‘old hat’ in disrupts the flow of the film. In taking the punch out of the jokes the film becomes centred on the neurotic breakdown of Alfie and Annie’s relationship and it loses something of its power. It’s still a wonderful piece of work, but it just feels somewhat disjointed.

When taken with the fact that Alfie is a character who has been parodied and spoofed a dozen times over, his character ticks replicated to the point of perfection, it becomes almost trite to watch Annie Hall. It’s a dark film about self destruction, lightened by humour and wit, but if the humour and wit has been overplayed by imitators then all you are left with is the darkness. As such watching Annie Hall becomes more about intellectual appreciation than emotional appreciation.

As culture cannibalises itself more and more I fear that films are going to have their teeth pulled out more and more often. How will Empire Strikes Back play when the truth of Vader’s identity is part of the cultural psyche? At what point does the initial ‘You Talkin’ To Me’ become a parody of itself, a cultural cornerstone turned into an easy gag?

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My generation grew up with ‘You Talkin’ To Me’ as a cultural icon completely divorced from Taxi Driver. The generation after will grow up with ‘Say Hello to my Little Friend’ as a punch line, and in twenty years time current cultural memes may have become overused and overstated. So what’s the solution? There probably isn’t one, in fact as media becomes more and more pervasive the cultural net is going to be cast further and further for things to consume. The only way to truly appreciate fine pieces of cinematic art will be to catch them before they become the zeitgeist, or pray the true classics of today remain culturally insulated (like the underseen but utterly superb Zodiac).

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

Posted in Americana, Movies, Review on December 6, 2007 by Spike Marshall

AKA: The Assassination of Spike’s blog formatting by a horrendously long title

The first thing which came to mind after leaving ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ (hereby shortened to ‘The Man That Gone Done Got Shot’) was what exactly Brad Pitt had to do to get some credibility. Actually that’s a lie, the first thing that came to mind after leaving ‘The Man That Gone Done Got Shot’ was a Keanu Reeves style ‘Whoa’. To say that Pitt does great work in ‘The Man That Done Got Shot’ would be an understatement of epic proportions. But then again, aside from perhaps Thelma and Louise, there are very few films where Pitt isn’t engaging as an actor. His work in Seven, Twelve Monkeys, the Oceans series and Snatch should have garnered him all kinds of accolades, but he’s still viewed as an unknown property when it comes to legitimate acting. He’s certainly not in the league of actors like Ed Norton, but compared to ‘heavyweight’ acting talents like Christian Bale he’s a genuinely great performer. Sadly ‘The Man That Gone Done Got Shot’ won’t do much to change this. Partially because nobody will ever see, but largely because the few people who do see it will most likely be enraptured more by the performance of Casey Affleck as the titular coward.

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Affleck’s Robert Ford is brilliant largely because of how loathable he is. We see the film largely from his viewpoint and as such he becomes the natural protagonist within the movie, but he’s never likeable. His character changes immensely through the narrative but in doing so he evolves from one deeply unlikeable character to a different kind of unlikeable character, however he remains utterly fascinating throughout. It’s hard to take your eyes off of Ford when he’s on screen, even at his worst there’s magnetism to Affleck’s performance which is almost prenatural. Pitt tries his hardest and his performance as James is well thought out and superbly acted, but it’s all artifice when compared to Affleck. Ford feels like a real character, every nuance feels natural, feels deserved, Pitt is stuck with a more classical acting job and as such is at a natural disadvantage.

Given that the film is essentially an origin story, Ford is the more malleable character; James has to meet certain restrictions for the story to work. Which isn’t to say that Pitt does a bad job, he’s absolutely electric as James. Charming, funny, disturbed, noble, vicious, paranoid and manic all at once, he’s the embodiment of a man on edge and he nails the role completely. But the role is that of cipher, we’re on the outside looking in a lot of the time and as such all we’re left with is the surface. The few times that James really gets to bare his teeth show how incredible an actor Pitt is, but they’re too far between to match Affleck’s continually nuanced performance.

It’s hard to believe that this is only Andrew Dominik’s second feature. Whilst his first film, the incredible ‘Chopper’, showed a great new talent few could have realised his next film could be called a legitimate masterpiece. Working with the utterly fantastic cinematographer Roger Deakins (IMDB your favourite recent films and he’s probably been the director of Photography) Dominik creates the kind of lush, precise, visual poetry you’d attribute to a far more seeded director. ‘The Man That Gone Done Got Shot’ bears all of the hallmarks of veteran filmmaker, on a thematic and purely textual level it seems far beyond someone with so ‘little’ experience. And yet the film barely stutters in its impeccability. The only points of contention being the few times a point is hammered home a little too soundly. I’d have a lot of issues with the narrator (who overstates and overemphasise stuff which is perfectly fathomable from the onscreen actions) if not for the fact it’s a) so well done and b) potentially another element of the film which is messing with the audience.

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Told with the kind of growling purr usually used to describe how awesome and traditional Jack Daniels is, the Narrator is shown to be massively unreliable from the opening monologue. The Narrator, for the voice belongs to no character and seems a little too good old boyish to be god, describes how James has a rare condition which makes him constantly blink. This piece of information is shown over a shot of Jesse James vehemently not blinking, and in recollection I don’t think he blinks during the entire film. In a film about tarnished iconography it’s easy to assume that the narrator is a representative of the American conception of Jesse James. Still heavily romanticised and as far from the truth as you could possibly get.

At first I thought that not being embroiled in American culture would make the deconstruction elements of the film a little harder to get onboard with. I mean how can you successfully appreciate a deconstruction of a character who was never really constructed in the first place. Thankfully the direction from a non-American (and based on this Dominik is probably the second greatest Kiwi export ever) sort of helps this transition, it becomes about ideas rather than specific people. We’re given enough information about James to understand how he fits into the American iconosphere. He’s part myth, part legend, part outlaw, part freedom fighter. Ford and the Narrator serve as the perfect conduit into the iconography of James, although we perhaps see the cracks in the character a little too quickly for the effect to be truly perfect. Watching James turn from his friendly, charming persona into his almost demonic self when he robs a train is a shock to the system but it’s all incumbent on Pitt making us lower our guard.

That’s the paradigm at play in the film, the story is about the deconstruction of myth but the visuals are almost dreamlike in their quality. The soothing sound of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score combining with the cinematography to give an epic, hyper natural quality to a film which is all about getting down to the nitty gritty of an idea. And it works wonderfully; I doubt there will be a film this year which is quite as lush and deep as ‘The Man That Gone Done Got Shot’. There are scenes in the film which are just simply stunning, breathtaking works which show the medium at its grandest. The opening train robbery is a thing of beauty, transcendental in its staging, ethereal in its visualisation and haunting in its iconography. A later scene where James discusses death with Ford’s older brother Charlie whilst he shoots at the frozen river they’re stood on is so deep and so textually rich that you could write a book on it alone.

It’s a product which is almost too good to be true, a truly deep and invigorating piece of work.

No Country For Old Men

Posted in Americana, Movies, Review on December 2, 2007 by Spike Marshall

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’.

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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.

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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.