Friday, May 15, 2015

No Country For Old Men (Best Picture 2007)

I'm not sure why I never got around to watching this film when it first came out. Maybe it's reputation of ultra-violence turned me off. Maybe the "look" of Javier Bardem, with his emotionless glaze and his awful Seventies haircut, turned me off. And then maybe I just forgot about it. I mean, I have been a fan of the Coen Brothers for years, ever since Blood Simple (1984). They were born and grew up in Minnesota, and I was in school in that state at the time of that film's release. So it was around a lot and I think I saw it three or four times. I have seen most of their films since, so maybe I just forgot to get around to watching this one.

Anyway, No Country For Old Men is a terrific film. Right up front I will tell you that it IS ultra-violent, however. The stone-cold killer portrayed by Javier Bardem murders more than a dozen people, and he uses a compressed air weapon that not only lethal, it's gross. So if you find a high level of violence unacceptable, you will probably not want to watch this film.

Josh Brolin portrays a down-on-his-luck Viet Nam vet who happens upon a drug deal after it has gone bad. He finds the "last man standing" has also expired, so he (Llewelyn Moss by name) decides to help himself to the money. That night guilt gets the best of him, and he decides to go back and help one of the severely wounded but not quite dead men. That is his first mistake, because while he had the rendezvous spot to himself earlier there are now others swarming around it, and he is seen. So he goes on the run; he tells his wife Carla Jean (a fantastic Kelly MacDonald) to visit her mother, and he tries to throw the scent off of them. Unfortunately, the friends of the dead men as well as Bardem (whose character we eventually learn is named Anton Chigurh) do not give up easily. Those two forces clash, leaving only Chigurh to continue the search for Moss. Fed up by the delay, the drug kingpin hires another killer, a swarmy Woody Harrelson, to either beat Chigurh or to finish the job. Of course, law enforcement becomes involved as well, as Tommy Lee Jones as the local sheriff seems to be one step behind everybody else.  Eventually he realizes that this much violence and evil is too much for someone of his age, and he retires. The last scenes are of him and his retired, elderly uncle discussing "the old days," and he and his wife discussing what he is going to do now that he is retired.

There are so many great scenes in this film, it's hard to know where to start. The location is the first character we see in this film, beginning with horizons during a sunrise and then giving us panorama shots of the mountains, the deserts, and the highways. The film, like the day, starts beautifully.

Too soon, however, we are shown a strangling scene that is abruptly begun, passionate in the victim's attempts to escape, and dirty in the scuff marks and wounds left over. I have never seen a strangle scene staged quite this way, filmed from above as the victim and attacker are both writing around on the linoleum floor. It's painful to watch because it is so well done.

We then get an extended scene of Josh Brolin coming across the scene of the drug deal. He is out in the desert hunting (symbolically, he only wounds the antelope he shoots) when he finds prey of another kind. The same way he was trailing the antelope, he now trails the lone survivor. It's a fascinating story-telling technique, using wide vista and almost no dialogue to "show" us what has happened, and what is happening. Because Brolin as Moss doesn't know exactly what has occurred, neither do we.

We see Chigurh again later at a gas station not making small talk with the proprietor. He appears ready to murder the man in cold blood, then offers to flip a coin. He tells the man, "Call it!" but will not admit that they are betting for the man's life. It is a wonderfully written and staged scene, as the proprietor slowly comes to realize that his customer intends to murder him. The suspense built up in this scene is palpable. Javier Bardem won Best Supporting Actor for his role as Chigurh, and this scene is one of the reasons why. Another great Chigurh scene comes later, after he has been shot in his leg. He stages a distraction and then robs a pharmacy of medical supplies. We then see, step by step, him nursing his wound. He cleans it, he disinfects it, he shoots himself full of a local anesthesia, and then he pulls out the bullet. During this entire scene he has no dialogue and his expression does not change.

There are quite a few scenes where images appear in rear-view mirrors, car windows, store windows, and television sets. I don't know what they mean, but they appear enough to mean something. They are done very well, regardless.

The cat and mouse scenes at the motel and the hotel are also masterpieces of suspense. Moss checks into a motel room, then when he comes back he feels like someone has checked in after him. He reserves an additional room on the other side of the building. Meanwhile, Chigurh checks in and, thinking that Moss is there, breaks in, only to find some of the drug dealers. In the ensuing chaos, Moss gets away safely. However, Chigurh tracks him to his next hotel...or does he? Is it paranoia, or is the man standing outside your door really wanting to kill you? Although the answer to that question comes pretty quickly, you will be on the edge of your seat for the rest of this film.

Reading about this film and its reputation, I saw that the ending caused quite a few people a bit of frustration. As the movie progresses, we actually see less and less violence; it's almost as if we see how Chigurh kills enough times so that the Coen Brothers no longer have to show us every time he strikes. That, I can understand. Does he actually end up killing Carla Jean? During the film, as it progressed, I thought, "no." After I thought about it awhile, though, I changed my mind, and now I think he *does* kill her. It's never shown, so we can argue either way. And as for the sheriff's dreams, I think the last scenes are straight forward: he was old, he knew he was in no condition to continue to fight the evil, so he walked away. We could discuss that, too, I suppose. I kinda liked the ending.

No Country For Old Men won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Directors (the brothers were co-directors), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor. Similar to what I said last week about The Departed, if you are a fan of complex story-lines and don't mind the violence, this film should entertain you.

No Country For Old Men
*Academy Award Best Picture of 2007*
Produced by Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen
Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Screenplay by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

This is a pretty good trailer. It hits on a lot of what I noticed in the film.
As I've said before, if the trailer looks interesting to you,
give the film a try.  

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood
I only saw two of the nominees this year. Atonement is the period drama that morphs into something else, all about atoning for sins (or perceived sins). It starred Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, and was very thought-provoking. Michael Clayton was George Clooney as a lawyer trying to do the right thing. Tilda Swinton, most famous as the Witch in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, won Best Supporting Actress for her role. Juno is about two teenagers getting pregnant; as a father of a teen-aged daughter, I didn't want to see this, sorry. And There Will Be Blood is thematically similar to No Country For Old Men; they are both about violent cowboys. I just never got around to seeing it. Daniel Day-Lewis won his second Best Actor Award for his role.

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