Thursday, November 22, 2007

REVIEW: No Country For Old Men

What sets the Coen Brothers apart from not only other indie-scene mainstays but most other modern American filmmakers is - apart from the astonishing surplus and consistency of talent - that their BEING American filmmakers is unmistakable... In an age of pan-globalization where the whole notion of a "national cinema" is fading away from country after country, where Toronto, Manhattan and Prauge routinely stand-in for one another on the basis of "eh, one downtown looks enough like another; Joel and Ethan Coen stand out from the pack by focusing a great deal of their attention and affection on the unique vibe and atmosphere of their own native soil.

It's this "homespun" grounding, I'd posit, that's responsible for so much of their frequent mainstream-crossover appeal: Offbeat, unconventional, strange or even just plain DARK works aren't often going to have great "legs" outside of the arthouse scene... but when it's playing out in familiar settings realized with unparalelled authenticity, suddenly it's not quite so impenetrable. "No Country For Old Men," taken from a novel by Cormac McCarthy, has a lot of the same pitch-black story beats and catharsis-denying ambiguity that many audiences would find alienatingly, well... alien in the heady Euro/arthouse sources they more often occur in; but offer the relatability of a genuine-feeling Southwestern backdrop as a recognizable point of entry.

Here's a movie that starts out looking like a modern-day western, then begins to look like a caper flick before eventually revealing itself to be a kind of Monster Movie... though one where the rampaging, nigh-superhuman creature is technically human: Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a psychopath killer-for-hire who does his duty with a nasty slaughterhouse air-gun, suppressed-shotgun and a Sir Lancelot haircut that seems more like a dare than a stylistic decision on his part. He's been hired to run-down Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) a resourceful Southwestern everyman who's 2 Million dollars wealthier after stumbling onto the remnants of a drug-deal-gone-bad shootout involving the asassin's employers. Chigurh's methodology, such as it is, is to go everywhere that Moss has been or might be going and do massive amounts of damage to people and property just to let his quarry know what's waiting for him. Some tangential storylines involving a world-weary sherrif (Tommy Lee Jones) and a criminal middle-man (Woody Harrelson) fill-out some of the more specific plot points, but this mainly boils to a two-man chase flick.

This being a Coen Brothers movie and, on top of that, something of a thriller, there's not much more that can be said without venturing into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, it's a fine piece of work with a great mood and a killer cast; with Jones especially doing the same kind of great work he did in "In The Valley of Elah" but now in-service of a superior film. And Bardem, as you've heard, is one of the all-time 2007 bad guys as Chigurh. Go see it before people spoil the surprise parts for you.


1 comment:

tyra said...

aren't they working on adapting garth ennis' preacher into something? i'm (wishfully) thinking hbo series... that would be the best way, because of the long format and nine volumes of material.