A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

No Country for Old Men

June 6, 2011

No Country for Old Men

In my time at Blockbuster I had a habit of buying Oscar winning or nominated movies with the intention of watching them at some point in the undefined future. I didn’t always get around to them. Actually – I almost never got around to them. The sad fact of the matter is that in general the kind of movie that wins Oscars is not really my cup of tea. The academy of arts and sciences seems to lean towards serious, intense and often very dark movies. As a result of this behavior I have a bunch of movies in my collection that I’ve just never had the urge to watch all the way through. Movies like Capote and Brokeback Mountain and There Will Be Blood and The Wrestler. And this movie.

The truth is that I have tried to watch this before. I love a good Coen Brothers movie and of course many people had raved about this when it came out. I love Tommy Lee Jones, and I had heard how awesome and powerful Javier Bardem was as the ruthless and unstoppable hit man in this film. It’s not a feel good movie though. It’s not quirky or strange or funny. It’s a brutal suspense crime thriller – sort of a return to Blood Simple but relying less on being slick or cool or edgy. Instead it is gritty, brutal and realistic – relying on its simplicity and sparse detail rather than on the Coen Brothers’ usual camera tricks and style.

This is pretty much a western set at the end of the seventies. A massive drug deal goes bad in the Arizona desert with a whole mess of people killed and two million dollars in cash st stake. As with much of the movie we only see the aftermath – a hunter tracking game through the wilderness comes upon the carnage and eventually finds the valise with all the cash in it. Llewelyn Moss is a simple self sufficient man, and although he knows it’s probably a pretty stupid movie he can’t pass up that money. So he takes it. And soon he has the Mexican drug cartel and American crime boss who both want the money after him. Most disastrously though he has a brutal and completely cold blooded killer out for him as well.

Anton Chigurh, the killer played by Javier Bardem, is a force of nature. He kills the two mob agents who hire him to hunt down the money, just because killing is what he does. He travels with a strange silenced shotgun and a pneumatic gun designed to slaughter cattle. Every person he comes across ends up dead – and he kills them all with quiet efficiency. What’s so fascinating about this character is that he appears so rational. One of the other characters in the movie says that he seems to have a sort of twisted code that he lives by. Chigurh is so terrifying because he is so steadfast and sure of himself and so befuddled by what appears to him to be the irrelevant ramblings of his victims. He seems genuinely puzzled as to why they keep telling him that he doesn’t have to do this, because in his mind clearly he does.

All this is wrapped up in a bleak kind of fatalistic atmosphere by the sheriff who has been following the unfolding events. Tommy Lee Jones is Sheriff Bell, the man who knows what’s going on and finds himself powerless to stop it. The most human moments in the movie, and the sentiment behind the title, all come from Bell’s sense that the world has become darker, more violent, more brutal and that his sensible form of law enforcement is no longer sufficient. He tries to keep things under control, and most of the time he’s the only character who seems to understand everything that’s going on. His final monologue, which has nothing to do at all with the events in the movie but everything to do with the sentiment, is as affecting and powerful a piece of acting as I have ever witnessed.

I do like this movie. I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I like it. I like it for its craft, for the performances. It’s a movie full of long silences, powerful tension, intense larger-than-life people. There are great huge expanses of the film that have no dialog at all, where we just get to experience the action with the characters, following their thought process. It’s unusual to find a movie that has virtually no musical score, and that’s part of what adds to the power of this film. It’s a kind of heightened reality that works so perfectly to communicate the brutal and unforgiving world depicted here.

Once again, as so often happens, the Coen Brothers have created something powerful and unique. Equal parts Unforgiven and Touch of Evil. It’s all about alienation and cruelty and the evil that people are capable of. It’s not thrilling or uplifting, and it doesn’t leave you feeling better at the end than you did when you started out – and that’s unusual for a big budget film. It’s why it won a mess of Oscars and ended up in our collection. I won’t say that I’m going to be watching it very often, but it is an achievement and I’m glad that I own it.

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June 6, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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