There’s a fantastic article on the production design of A Serious Man over at Incontention, one that tries to capture the apparent contradiction between spatial emptiness and richness of setting. The film utilizes a particular type of blank palette, one that needs to capture the inherent possibility of the moment:

“Basically I wanted to tell the story of suburbia and the suburban Jew,” Gonchor says.  “It was the beginning of the suburbs in the Midwest.  So I wanted everything to look as new and as fresh as possible, everything from the inside of the temple to the neighborhood.  I wanted to get across a sense of a new beginning and a new world.”

A new world, rife with possibilities but not yet developed enough to be truly comfortable or even properly defined. The protagonist struggles with establishing his property; his neighbor constantly encroaches on his yard. No fences make bad neighbors for the Jew hoping to be accepted as equal partner in settling the new land. This is, in a sense, a frontier story, and the production design goes to great lengths to define it this way.

Easily one of the best movies of the year.

NOTE: This review is reprinted with the permission of The Furious Romantic, who happens to live in the same brain as Ibiteyoureyes. For a “dueling review” see dailysalad’s post No Country or No Old Men? Pick ‘Em.

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I had been trying to think of a good way to start off a review of No Country for Old Men, and today I found one, courtesy of Peter Travers from Rolling Stone. Says Mr. Travers:

“Misguided souls will tell you that No Country for Old Men is out for blood, focused on vengeance and unconcerned with the larger world outside a standard-issue suspense plot. Those people, of course, are deaf, dumb, and blind to anything that isn’t spelled out between commercials on dying TV networks. Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel is an indisputably great movie, at this point the year’s very best. [It is] a literate meditation (scary words for the Transformers crowd) on America’s bloodlust for the easy fix. It’s also as entertaining as hell, which tends to rile up elitists.”

Despite having what Mr. Travers might call a “more or less well-guided soul,” I was fairly pissed off by his use of such fightin’ words as “deaf, dumb, and blind.” I was greatly pissed off by the last sentence of the previous excerpt: “It’s also entertaining as hell, which tends to rile up elitists.” While Mr. Travers is entitled to his opinion, there are a few problems with taking a swipe at both the “misguided souls” of the film watching community and the “elitists” of the film watching community…in the span of a few sentences.

  1. It sort of implies that only a small group of really special people (super-elitists with well-guided souls?), led by Mr. Travers himself, can truly appreciate this movie.
  2. It puts the writer in the difficult position of defending an indefensible point (an opinion) from two fronts: The Stoopids is gonna yell at you in between commercials on their dying TV networks, and the Snark-Attackers are going to band together at the local bar to get drunk and skewer you…in between being clever and complaining about society and the misfortunes of their lives…before then setting off to the local indie theater to watch unentertaining movies films! full of pauses and poetry.

It’s a good thing Peter Travers is completely wrong when he says that No Country for Old Men is an indisputably great movie. I dispute, home skillet. I dispute. No Country for Old Men is a good, but ultimately disappointing, movie.

Read the rest of this entry »

No Country for Old Men is probably the best movie you will see this year; it is also the most unsatisfying. The Coen brothers have always been praised for their artistry and technical brilliance, but No Country is a significant leap forward. Earlier Coen brothers’ films have dealt with similar themes (Miller’s Crossing, for example, or Fargo, which had heretofore been their most highly praised film), but none of them, not even Blood Simple, the first stitching of the thread, have anticipated No Country. The only thing simple or easy about blood in this movie is the cool ease with which Javier Bardem dispenses with his villains. His bullets and air-capsules are as cold and terrifying as the Coen brother’s cinematography and mis-en-scene.

This review will be a positive one, if only because I promised the eyebiter that we could write dueling reviews. But any honest review of this movie should itself be a dual or dueling one, all reviews of No Country for Old Men should take on the different reactions the movie elicits without hiding behind a veil of technical artistry. I’ve thought more and more about the movie since I left the theater, and not only because I knew that I would have to collect my thoughts in code. And in that time everything has faded (Bardem’s killer is just too cinematic to be horrifying when you leave the theater) except my sense of confusion. No Country for Old Men was a movie. Something to be seen and admired, something even to be studied. But beyond that? Like David Byrne suggested, I ask myself, “Well, how did I get here?”

No Country for Old Men is first and foremost a movie about storytelling. The first ten minutes of the movie play with the idea of perspective.The movie is introduced with a voice-over by Tommy Lee Jones that summarizes something. It perhaps describes the whole movie, or perhaps only the pre-history. Either way, by the time the movie proper begins, the the story is already in the middle. Javier Bardem is being arrested by the police; what has he done? A dramatic, horrific shootout has occurred, yet we only see the bloody stillness. There are two minor characters who look alike, two deputies, such as to introduce the possibility of confusion and flashback, before Tommy Lee sets the story straight, coolly describing the events so far. “That’s very linear of you,” the deputy tells him, and Tommy Lee tells him that when you get to his age you prefer things that way. Linear storytelling; no jumping through time, playing with narrative forms. Tommy Lee Jones is not a narrator like Sam Elliot in The Big Lebowski, inserting himself into the story. The movie is a defense of old-fashioned, A-Z film-making, while also offering a corrective. Dramatic, important moments are told off camera, elided in a sense. It’s direct storytelling, but there’s nothing cut and dry about it. The Coen brothers might have matured into more classical film-making, but they haven’t abandoned everything that made them who they were. Read the rest of this entry »