November 10, 2007

REVIEW: No Country for Old Men (A)

Background: Writer/director brothers Joel and Ethan Coen are back on the scene with No Country for Old Men, their much-anticipated adaptation of Cormac McCarthey's 2005 novel by the same name. After achieving indie-darling status in the early 90's and then mainstream success with Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and O, Brother Where Are Thou?, the Coen brothers have made three flops in a row - most recently 2004's The Ladykillers. They return to their strongest genre with No Country for Old Men, which stars Spaniard Javier Bardem (Before Night Falls, The Sea Inside), Josh Brolin (recently in American Gangster), and Tommy Lee Jones (recently in In the Valley of Elah). You're not going to believe it, but Jones plays totally against type as a scraggly, suffering old sheriff with a drawl. No Country for Old Men was filmed in Texas and New Mexico and was very well received at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Synopsis: Texas/Mexico border, 1980. Retired welder Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) is out on a desert hunt when he comes across a grisly body-strewn, bullet-riddled scene - the remnants of a drug deal gone sour. Ignoring the wounded lone survivor, and the stash of drugs, Moss soon finds the case full of payment money, which he casually takes back to his trailer park and nagging wife. Elsewhere, Anton Chigurh (Bardem) is escaping police custody and killing anyone in his way (with weapons that you've never seen before). And, as it turns out, the drug money is his. Moss returns to the crime scene to aid the wounded survivor - a foolish decision since he has to abandon his truck and barely escapes with his life. Now on the run with the money and some guns, Moss is alone and a target. Meanwhile, soon-to-retire Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones) is yawningly trying to track down both Moss (to save him) and Chigurh (to arrest him). The rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse chase with some additional interesting characters (Woody Harrelson plays a private gumshoe) and a number of unexpected twists. Plenty of lives are lost along the way before the incomplete yet satisfying end.

I Loved:
+ The outstanding ensemble acting - across the board, perfect in every way.
+ The early scene at the gas station with the conversation between Bardem and the owner - wow, was I scared.
+ That not every murder was shown, but rather just inferred.

I Liked:
+ The dusty, haunting landscapes through which the characters traveled, and the excellent 1980's production design.

I Disliked:
- The obligatory self-surgery scenes where someone pulls up their shirt in the middle of the street to inspect a bubbling wound and then later extracts bullets or dresses the wound for the first and last time.

I Hated:
- The most predictable car accident in years.

Writing - 10
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Significance - 3

Total: 47/50= 94% = A

Last Word: There are few movies that require a lot of work in searching for weaknesses, but No Country for Old Men is one of them. It's a gripping, spellbinding, tightly wound production with characters that you can't stand, but also can't help watch.
I was extremely impressed with this movie, though I should say I haven't read the book. Matt says the Coen brothers were very faithful to it. Javier Bardem is a menacing figure - one of the scariest movie characters in a long time. Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are simply excellent in their roles, with memorable scenes and nuanced performances. Even Woody Harrelson makes the most of his limited screen time. Speaking of which, I don't remember even a minute of the film that didn't add significance to the story. It was just a top-to-bottom well-made movie. Even the minor criticisms I listed above don't take anything away from No Country for Old Men. Count me in as back on the Coen brothers bandwagon.

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