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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

REVIEW - "No Country for Old Men" (2007)

The two films I’m reviewing back-to-back have absolutely nothing in common, (this and “Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem”) but I felt it was important to review them together. As a blogger, and fan, I am not bound by the rules of a paid critic, so I can say what I actually feel about the movies. As a lover and student of film, however, I have an innate understanding of the good, the bad and the ugly. That said, I want to move on with the review and I’ll explain why this paragraph was necessary by the end of the “Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem” review.

“No Country for Old Men” is one of those “good” that I mentioned. So good it’s great. The Coen Brothers have always shown a powerful deal of talent and strong narrative in their movies, but they hit one out of the park with this film. Whereas “Eastern Promises” is like English literature with western influences, “No Country for Old Men” is more akin to American literature with early European influences-- And lots of it too. “No Country for Old Men” plays out like a Christopher Marlowe play or other Elizabethan tragedies. Its art lies in the thriving of evil throughout the movie, and the supreme torture of any character remotely resembling good. This leaves a sort of beautiful, real-life inconsistency that seems to represent an apocalyptic outcome. It begs us to question aspects of reality that many people will find disturbing.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a sadistic killer on the hunt for his money that has been taken by local hick, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin). Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) gets involved in the situation and watches the events unfold days after they have happened. As Anton continues a killing spree for his money, Bell, looking at retirement, watches the case with a poetic understanding of everything gone wrong in the world.

I don’t know what persuaded the Coen Brothers to create such a different movie, but the result is masterful and, albeit, very hard for audiences to “get.” The last twenty minutes of the film may leave people wondering, “Why did that just happen?” “Does that make any descriptive sense?” It’s hard to talk about this movie without spoiling it, so for those who have yet to see it skip to the next paragraph. Anton is the absolute of evil-- Of death. Such a force can be beaten, tricked, won against and you can even get lucky against it—Kind of like in a coin toss. Yet it always, always survives to destroy something another day. The last twenty minutes of the film is a narrative of reality. The characters thought it was going to end one way, the audience thought it was going to end that same way, but it didn’t. That’s because the same force that Anton represents is found everywhere—And it caught Llewelyn.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a character similar to that of Morgan Freeman’s in “Seven.” He represents the knowledge and purity of this world—The opposite of Anton. As such, he cannot be destroyed either, even when in close contact with the opposing force, but he can, and often is, weary of the evil, the death and the battles. His monologue at the end of the film, recalling dreams he had, might be a lot for audiences to take in before the screen cuts to the end title cards. Even the most intelligent film critics and historians are baffled and continue to converse about the ending’s relevance. I personally believe Bell’s dream is a longing for a peaceful world he wishes to create, but he can’t. He is an old man who failed to help anyone, thus there is “no country” for him. I think it’s the perfect ending. It solidifies Bell’s relevance to the story and it was ultimately where the entire movie was going all along.

While Tommy Lee Jones delivers a masterful performance, it’s Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh that will creep audiences out of their skin. His ruthlessness is undeniable and his presence onscreen is more menacing than any slasher villain I can recall in recent years. His initial “coin toss” is one of the most edge of your seat, psychological freak out moments of the film. The entire idea, while sick, is perfect for the character and Bardem handles it without fault.

While my initial reaction to the movie wasn’t so positive, I’ve had plenty of time to think about it. (It’s part of the reason why it has taken so long for me to get a review up.) Ultimately, this film does away with the common Hollywood film traits and, like many French films, mocks the classic Hollywood style with its unusual plotline. This only enhances the film’s study in reality and its evils. Dark, but witty; cunning, but hits you hard—This is the Coen Brothers at their best.

**** out of ****

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