Catching up with some friends home from abroad, we decided to give “No Country For Old Men” a try. As it has been discussed elsewhere in Yesterday’s Salad, my synopsis will remain brief. The movie was beautifully shot, and accordingly, the portrayal of violence in the film is both sudden and gruesome. That the carnage feels horrible rather than stylized is a distinction that few films can make.

The epicenter of this bloody spectacle is hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who is unerringly unnerving throughout; apart from his vacant stare and mysterious hair, he punctuates conversations with sudden bursts from his bolt gun or silenced rifle, straight into his interlocutor. However, the grim consistency with which Chigurh dispatches everyone in his path eventually becomes so grating, that you begin half-listening to otherwise innocuous conversations, worrying that any pause might end in gunfire. To the directors’ credit, a scene about a third of the way through this movie plays with our uneasiness to considerable comic effect.

Tommy Lee Jones’ Ed Tom Bell, the local sheriff, couldn’t be farther from Chirgurh, both in terms of characterization and his location throughout the film. While the amoral Chirgurh resembles the Terminator in his vicious hunt, Bell is a fine match in his unrelenting willingness to sit back and see how things turn out, which Bell assures us, will be a bloody, awful mess. Most of this is chalked up to how unbelievably grizzled he is, as in one exchange with his deputy:

Wendell
That's very linear Sheriff.

Bell stares at the fire. 

Bell
Well. Old age flattens a man.

In fact, Bell turns down almost every chance he gets to investigate, saying that he has every expectation that things will be awful, and that they’ll still be awful after some more coffee and pie. Although the movie ends with him reflecting on being a law-man and the interplay of dreams with his past, these elements are never developed to a point at which they provide a satisfying way to interpret the film.

Needing to feel clean once more, we slipped into a theater showing “Juno,” another movie that you’ve probably heard plenty about. As has been noted elsewhere and in this publication, the movie can be too quick with its cleverness, particularly in the opening scene, wherein a drug store clerk abuses newly pregnant teen Juno (Ellen Page) with rhyming mockery:

JUNO  I remain unconvinced.
Rollo pulls the bathroom key out of reach.
ROLLO   This is your third test today, Mama  Bear.
Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it!
ROLLO
So what's the prognosis, Fertile
Myrtle? Minus or plus?
JUNO
(examining stick) I don't know.
It's not...seasoned yet. Wait. Huh.
Yeah, there's that pink plus sign
again. God, it's unholy.    She shakes the stick desperately in an attempt to skew the
results. Shake. Shake. Nothing.    ROLLO
That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This
is one doodle that can't be undid,
homeskillet.

Thankfully, the rest of the film remained clever without the rhyming couplets. While it was precious at points, the characters were well-developed and believable, and Juno’s considerable quirkiness seemed appropriate to her character, seeing as she is just a teenager, rather than an adult in a Wes Anderson film. Without cataloging the rest of the film, in many ways it was the perfect anecdote to “No Country For Old Men” – it was cute, refreshingly linear, and the only unstoppable thing chasing people was Michael Cera in track shorts.

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.

* * *

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 »