Thursday, January 31, 2008
'No Country for Old Men'-- Is No Movie for the Faint of Heart
Movies about psychopathic killers 'with rules and principles' are not the usual fare of Oscar nominations, at least not for best picture, but 'No Country for Old Men' is an exception to most rules for sure. This movie has been hailed as an instant classic, as near perfect, as a nearly perfect adaptation of a novel for the silver screen, and the plaudits keep on coming. I must admit that it's subject matter kept me away for a long time, but eventually I decided I needed to see what all the shouting was about. Turns out they were right that it is an amazing film, just not in any way a pleasant one.
The movie is R rated due to violence, and clocks in at 2 hours and 2 minutes. Unlike slasher and some pure horror movies this movie is neither mindless terror and blood, nor endless gore without a point. Indeed, most of the movie is a psychological study about the change in character of America over the recent decades, seen through the lens of Texas law men like Tom Ed Bell (brilliantly played by Tommy Lee Jones), a third generation Texas Law man. The change I am referring to is the lurching towards ever more violence, ruthlessness, and despair in the last century. The movie was filmed around Marfa Texas, as was 'There will be Blood', so I am hoping this helped the coffers of that tiny town in far west Texas, population about 2,000. It is also the place where the classic film 'Giant' was made as well.
Something should be said about the Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan), the two headed director-producers of this and many other interesting films. I have liked their previous, if quirky work, like Raising Arizona (a young Nicholas Cage makes a star turn), Fargo, and my personal favorite 'O Brother Where Art Thou'? a true classic. It is not an accident that these siblings have won Academy Awards before, and I will be surprised if more hardware is not pulled in for this film as well. But back to the story itself. This film will not 'entertain' nor warm the cockles of your heart.
We have perhaps become accustomed to rough justice scenarios in films about Texas, but this film is about rough, and ongoing, injustice that is relentless. As Tom Ed's relative says to him near the end of the movie "you can't stop what's coming". And you get the sense that Bell feels overwhelmed, and instead of trying to stem the tide of senseless violence, he simply retires, and has dreams of joining his father in death. He ruminates about how he expected God to come after him and invade his life in his later days, but instead what happened was malevolent evil showed up on his doorstep.
In this movie the Law, whether the police or the DEA appear as impotent to stop the drug and money trade trapsing across the border from Mexico to Texas. The Law is good, but no match for Evil, particularly as embodied in the person of one Anton Shugar, a hired psychopathic killer, sent on the trail of one Lewellyn Moss who has made the big mistake of trying to take the money and run, from the desert scene of a drug for money swap gone terribly wrong. Indeed, even innocent women are no match for this killing machine, who decides life and death issues by flipping coins.
The title of the movie 'No Country for Old Men' comes from the fact that the old are of course too worn out to deal with such persistent ruthlessness, and this includes old law men like Sheriff Bell. Indeed, it might be said that Texas is but a parable of the whole country which has become 'no place for the old, the tired, the poor, the defenseless, and so on.'
If you are looking for redeeming features in this movie, or silver linings there really are none. It is a profoundly depressing film, which has its greatest success in accurately portraying psychopathic evil in the person of a hit man, which is resilent, takes a licking but keeps on ticking. Don't go see this film unless you are steeling against the heart of darkness which creeps across the land. As for me, I can only imagine that 'There will be Blood' will seem like a joy fest compared to this film. Both seem to suit very well the cold and dark of a January day. I guess I'll go see that other Marfa film next :(