Review: No Country for Old Men (2007) **** 1/2

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“You can’t stop what’s comin’.”

Big money leads to big trouble. It turns innocent people bad and it makes bad people dangerous. In Joel and Ethan Coen’s new film No Country For Old Men, the $2 million that turns up in a quiet corner of southwest Texas brings with it a hell ordinary people are not equipped to comprehend. Bullets fly, blood flows and many people meet an ugly end. Those who survive are left only to question what it all portends.

There are many movies yet to be released in 2007, but I’ll be surprised if there is one that is better than this. It’s easily the best movie of the year so far and in the warm afterglow of seeing it, it’s tempting to call it the best Coen movie ever. Some have already been so bold, but to my mind it’s a little early for judgements like that.

It’s also tempting to draw easy comparisons between No Country for Old Men and the Coens’ earlier work. Though there are similarities, particularly to Blood Simple and Fargo, the familiar themes and ideas that have enriched their other films have here been taken to an unexpected level of maturity. This is like no other Coen movie you have seen before. Forget comparisons. Everything they’ve done in 25 years of filmmaking has been a prelude to this work of art.

A favorite sticking point among people who don’t like the Coen Brothers is the humor perceived as a smug condescension toward their characters. There is humor in No Country for Old Men to be sure, but any whiff of smugness has been slapped right off its face. It’s a splash of cold water. It’s startling. It’s invigorating. It’s their most perfect fusion of thriller and mood piece yet. It’s an art film with suspense to spare. It turns out the Coens have learned a thing or two about playing the audience over the years and their skills are on full display here. There is one sequence in particular involving two adjacent motel rooms that will leave you exhausted, fingers dug into the armrests.

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“Baby, things happened. I can’t take ’em back.”

One of my favorite segments is a chase through the desert at dawn. Early morning light is supposed to be a symbol of hope, but the Coens have turned the feeling on its head. It’s a nightmare. As a lone man runs for his life, fleeing from truck, from human and from dog, there is only terror. When he reaches safety and the sun has risen, he seems to understand that the chase has just begun and though he holds all the cards, the odds are against him. If his doom has not already been sealed, playing this hand could get him killed. Despite the danger, he has two million reasons to take his chances.

Suspense aside, the real heart of No Country for Old Men is a wistful and poetic screenplay adapted by the Coens themselves from Cormac McCarthy’s novel. How faithfully it was adapted I can’t say, but the screenplay stands on its own. It’s a thing of beauty that reads on the page almost as well as it plays on the screen. It’s rich with the sound of words and turns of phrase. Dialogue plays like music. The speech is common yet lyrical.

In bringing their wonderful screenplay to life, the Coens have assembled a terrific cast who stand out even in a year full of great performances. There is Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, the stoic ex-soldier who first finds the money. He’s a decent and no-nonsense man, but he’s cursed with a dangerous stubbornness. Brolin somehow makes a man not prone to expressing himself seem likable.

Dressed down but still pretty as always, Kelly MacDonald is his sweet wife Carla Jean. She’s the innocent of the piece. Trading her natural Scottish brogue for a Texas Trailer Twang, she quickly charms you with only a small amount of screen time.

Rounding out the good guys, Tommy Lee Jones is sheriff Ed Tom Bell. He’s the wise but weary narrator and audience surrogate. Already worn down by a lifetime of seeing the worst side of people, he seeks to understand this new violence that is being visited upon his small town. Jones seems to feel this kind of character in his bones and he owns every scene with nothing more than a look and a word or two.

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“That’s alright. I laugh myself sometimes. There ain’t a whole lot else you can do.”

Not every actor can inhabit a Coen character convincingly. It takes a way with words and a full commitment to the odd sort of stylization at which the Brothers excel. All three of these actors deliver marvelously, but as good as Brolin, MacDonald and Jones are, the most unforgettable performance and character is Javier Bardem as the enigmatic killer Anton Chigurh.

In the part of Texas the film is set, the horizon seems to go on forever and you feel as though you might be able to see danger coming from miles away. Though literal storm clouds gather early in the film, they offer only a hint of what Chigurh brings with him as he glides into town like some kind of implacable black ghost. You don’t see this character or this performance coming. Looking supernaturally pale in the Texas sun, Bardem is determined, unwavering and inevitable. There might be the faintest glimmer of pleasure in his eyes as he toys with his prey, but it is not friendly.

This is one of the most memorable screen villains in a long long time. He might not have the easy to remember catch phrases of a Hannibal Lecter, but he’s unforgettable, haunting your imagination for days afterward. One thing is certain: after Anton Chigurh, you’ll never look at the implied safety of a dead bolt in the same way again and the ominous hiss of a compressed air tank will give you shivers.

Even the Coen comedies have a strong current of melancholy to them, but No Country for Old Men is their most serious and sadly reflective. It’s steeped in a longing for a past gone by; of things lost and chances not taken. No punches are pulled and it borders on hopelessness. This is a mood that leads right up to the ending. I don’t want to say too much about it, but those expecting a conclusion that neatly fits the crime-thriller surface trappings of No Country are going to be disappointed. It’s a messy ending that reaches for poetry rather than closure. It leaves you thinking rather than soothing you with the idea that all is well in the world.

Unlike Fargo, we’re not even given so much as the comfort of a three-cent stamp, just the hope that maybe something better awaits at the ultimate end of the trail. In the mean time don’t struggle, the film seems to be saying. Submit to fate and take your chances. Your odds are at least 50/50. Or as Anton Chigurh says to one of his victims: “Call it.”

My expectations going into this movie were enormous, begging to be unmet and disappointed. In the end, they were easily exceeded and I wonder now how I could ever have thought otherwise. I got exactly what I wanted and somehow left the theater with more than I thought possible. Though I have ultimately treasured them all, I’ve never so unreservedly loved a Coen Brothers movie on first viewing as much as I did No Country for Old Men.

Is it the best Coen movie ever? Maybe. Ask me again later when the Texas dust has settled and the blood has had time to dry.

No Country for Old Men. USA 2007. Written and directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Based upon the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Edited by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (as Roderick Jaynes). Music score composed by Carter Burwell. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson and Kelly MacDonald. 2 hours 2 minutes. Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language. 4.5 stars (out of 5)

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50 thoughts on “Review: No Country for Old Men (2007) **** 1/2

  1. Wonderful review Craig. I love how the feelings the film evoked for you suffuse your writing. You seem perfectly attuned to what it had to offer. I think the dialog is an important element in the story’s success, as both script and book, so I particularly admired this passage:

    “It’s a thing of beauty that reads on the page almost as well as it plays on the screen. It’s rich with the sound of words and turns of phrase. Dialogue plays like music. The speech is common yet lyrical.”

    I also admired how you convincingly placed the film in the context of the Coen brother’s canon of work.

    Your favorite film of the year only gets 4.5 out of 5? What does it take to get a 5 star review?

  2. “…he seems to understand that the chase has just begun and though he holds all the cards, the odds are against him. If his doom has not already been decided, playing this hand could get him killed. Despite the danger, he has two million reasons to take his chances.”

    Have you ever written voice-over for a film noir? You ought to. Just try reading the above in a Bogie voice.

    Great review of a great movie, Craig. So you think it’s better than TWBB? I need to see both movies again before I commit to an opinion.

    Now I really must know: “WHAT DOES BASTARD IN THE BASKET” MEAN?!! It’s driving me craaaaaazy!!!

  3. Since we’re pulling quotes from Craig’s review, I’ll jump on the bandwagon — because it’s deserved:

    “A favorite sticking point among people who don’t like the Coen brothers is the humor they perceive as a smug condescension towards their characters.”

    For those who have reservations about the Coens’ films, I’m glad to see the above point addressed head-on (and early on).

    “Unlike Fargo, we’re not even given so much as the comfort of a three-cent stamp. . . .”

    Those words say so much, so economically.

    Really great review, Craig. The opening is particularly strong — sometimes when I read your stuff, I get the sense of a perfectly balanced geometric figure.

  4. Wow you guys fucking rule. Imagine nervously posting a review about your heroes, leaving for 6 hours, then returning to see such kind words from people whose opinion you treasure. That’s awesome. You guys make doing this a fuckuva lotta fun.

    The thing about the stars: In order to qualify as a full on 5-star movie, it has to be a certified classic. I don’t believe in the contradictory terms ‘instant classic’. A classic takes time. It takes contemplation. It has to live and breathe before it can assume the throne of all-time great. No review of a current movie will ever have more than 4.5 stars. In time, when I watch it again, it could get that extra half.

    As for dialogue….it is hands down my favorite aspect of the Coen oeuvre. Listening to it and reading it makes me smile. I shit you not, these boys are literature on the screen.

    Frank. I aspire to being hard boiled some day. It’s my favorite style. Bogie rules.

    ****SPOILER**** near the end of TWBB when HW announced he was going to South America or wherever, didn’t DDL start yelling at him that he was just a bastard in a basket over and over??? Or was that just when the mushrooms started kicking in for me…. (Kidding) *****END SPOILER****

    I’m glad you agree about the condescenion PIerre. People who don’t get it….well they just don’t get it. Later on down the road when more people have seen it, I’d like to address this bullshit notion that the Coens are misanthropes. I’m dying for someone to explain to me how anyone who could write the end of Raising Arizona or Fargo (to name just TWO) could accuse them of hating humanity. That’s just absurd and lazy…but the subject of another post.

    Also, the verdict is still out for me on TWBB until I write a real review which there’s no way in hell I’m going to do until I see it again. It could supplant No Country. It will be hard though as the Coens are a sentimental favorite and I’m still watching their homerun ball fly out of the fucking park. Which was awesome I must say. Still, as I’ve said before TWBB was surely something else.

    Thanks again guys. You made my night.

  5. Many years ago, when we were young and stupid, a friend and I attempted a parody of hard-boiled fiction. I can only recall the opening lines: “It was a dirty night in a dirty city. But what the hell…I’m a dirty person.” It’s probably for the best that the rest has been lost.

    SPOILER

    Ohhhhhh, now it’s coming back. But it I think the offending word was orphan, not bastard. “You were an orphan, I found you in a basket.” (Assuming the first guy to be killed was the kid’s father, “bastard” wouldn’t really make sense.) I think he even stammers over it at first: “You were an or-orphan,” as if he can’t bring himself to say it. Because by this point, H.W. really has become his son — which lends more weight to the theory that his remark about only needing the boy for cheap sympathy was not the whole truth. (As wrenching as this scene was, I think it was eclipsed for me by what followed, which may explain my confusion. Though it’s probably the gas.)

    By the way, I’ve seen very little mention of this kid’s performance. Maybe it’s because he’s so natural most viewers don’t think of it as acting. Whether the credit goes to young Dillon Freasier or P.T. Anderson, it’s an amazing job.

    Getting back on topic, I liked a comment you left Elsewhere about No Country: “There is a spiritual ennui that isn’t going to be defeated by a big gun battle where the good guys persevere.” That really sums up why the conclusion work, even if it doesn’t satisfy what we expect as a genre requirement.

  6. The Jim Thompson’s of the world make writing hard boiled look easy. I guess that’s why they’re famous and the rest of us toil away anonymously.

    As soon as you expressed confusion over Bastard in a Basket I backed off as possibly having misremembered it. The whole business with Eli grabbed my attention away and it’s what has really lingered in my mind. The only reason there’s a glimmer of the other is someone made a joke about it after the screening. Perhaps a third party would care to confirm or deny my memory???

    That little kid was pretty spectacular. So amazingly natural for a little kid. If I heard PTA correctly during the Q&A, he was just a local kid from the area in texas they were filming. Don’t quote me on that…could be another bastard in a basket type moment.

    ***SPOILERS*****

    Regarding the comment Elsewhere…is that the same one Scooterzzz (or was it Craptastic?) got snippy with me because I indirectly accused him of just being annoyed he didn’t get a money shot? I felt bad about that, but that’s essentially why people don’t like the ending in my opinion. They want satisfaction and to be let off the hook.

    To me that’s what elevates No Country slightly above Fargo. Fargo sort of pulled its punches in the end. Just a teeny bit. Allowing you a good feeling with Marge and Norm. There was an edge, but not as sharp as No Country.

    And don’t get me started on Mgmax complaining about the different Coen endings….especially Lebowski….sheez!…

  7. The kid was exceptionally good, as were all the supporting actors. I just think that it doesn’t pay to stand too close to the sun if you’re wanting to get noticed.

    I don’t recall the exact line – but I’m leaning towards “orphan”.

    ****SPOILERS*****

    Don’t forget too what followed Plainview’s cruel severance of his relationship with his son towards the end – in his drunken and spiritual wretchedness he stumbles down some stairs and we briefly witness a flashback to an everday moment of mutual affection with his young son and the Sunday girl.

  8. But wait! The plot thickens. Dorothy Vallens has just informed me that she distinctly remembers Plainview repeating “bastard in a basket, bastard in a basket” in a mocking tone, as H.W. and his interpreter are leaving.

    It’s very possible that after the film opens, Sartre and I will be wiping the egg off our faces and eating it with a side of crow as we flagellate ourselves– assuming we can pull our feet out of our mouths.

  9. Ernhhhh, too much There Will Be Blood here for my liking, must scan through comments.

    Anyway, I saw NCFOM tonight and obviously it was great. Mostly it’s just nice to see a real, full-blooded Coen Bros. movie again, which there really hasn’t been since The Man Who Wasn’t There, I would say. Welcome back, boys.

    What I would be interested in is more discussion about the movie’s oddities: why it is (SPOILERS) that Llewelyn’s death is handled so offhand. He goes from being our guy, the center of the movie, in one scene and mere seconds later he’s a corpse on the floor, clearly for a reason. Obviously he’s chosen his fate, but the significance of the girl by the swimming pool seems important.
    For that matter, the whole end sequence is so perversely odd that I would love to talk about it, the ballsiness of killing a very likeable main character (Macdonald) and ending the movie on a cryptic dream monologue is the kind of thing you only do if the filmmakers are absolutely convinced it’s the right thing to do, and yet it’s also the best way to keep your movie from being beloved by a mass audience and maybe tilt the balance come Oscar time. So I guess what I’m saying is: what do y’all think the ending of the movie really signifies?

  10. Don’t worry Jeff, I think the TWBB bits were all clearly marked out with spoiler warnings.

    I would like to say I had NCfOM pegged from first viewing, but I’ve seen it twice now and am not prepared to say I’ve cracked it. I do know it feels right….like you it’s nice to see them in full bloom for the first time since The Man Who Wasn’t There….but I can’t say I know what it all adds up to.

    I think there’s a degree of sticking to the novel (which I haven’t read, but have heard) and I think there’s also a willful disregard to playing into the hands of what people expect from an audience.

    ****SPOILERS*****

    Letting the audience off the hook by giving them what they expect…the money shot plus the good guy riding off into the sunset would sap the movie of its power. It wants to leave you thinking, not satisfied.

  11. Loved the writing. Excited about seeing the movie, but more excited about the accolades you received for the review. Well deserved I must say. We both agree the Cohen Brother’s dialogue is where they shine. I loved the reference to music. Can’t wait to hear it for myself.

    Don’t stop writing, you just get better and better.

  12. ***SPOILERS*****

    About the dead woman in the swimming pool (NCfOM), my take is that 1) this was the initial tip-off that Llewellyn was dead, 2) his death — that is, his fate — was a direct result of his greed, or lustful impulse, even when he knew that danger was one step behind him, and 3) the woman suffered a similar fate because of her having yielded to her animal impulses (I mean my god, she was in heat like an animal. . . .). I don’t believe the Coens were being moralistic or religious about this — they seemed to be documenting a simple basic fact of life, cynical though it is. By not giving Llewellyn more “death screen time,” the Coens placed more emphasis on the reasons — both overall and specific — behind his demise.

    ***END SPOILERS****

    Regarding the Coens so-called condescension toward their characters, my brother (who lives near in Wisconsin near Minnesota), says a lot of people adamantly refuse to see Fargo because of that very condescension — they apparently feel it’s insulting. To me, of course, that’s a superficial response. For example, in Fargo, before William H. Macy’s wife is accosted and kidnapped in their home, a certain kind of condescension toward her character comes through. But when the killers actually break in through the glass door, that condescension quickly evaporates as we see the woman quickly realize — right down to the bones in her body — that this is the real deal and her very existence is in immediate danger. Of course, it’s true that when we later see her with a bag over her head, the condescension returns. But that point of view coincides with that of the kidnappers. Through this, we see the Coens’ suggestion that there are people in this world who view other people with such condescension.

    In NCfOM, the condescension does not really exist. When Anton approaches the store owner in the coin-toss scene, we see the guy who exists in a very provincial setting. But because the Coens don’t look down on that, we see him as a 100% human, a guy we learn a lot about in those few minutes — and one we empathize with. The same holds true for the receptionist at Llewellyn’s mobile home park. She may be an overweight trailer-park biddy — but we (or at least I) don’t feel the condescension. It’s almost like the two have become one — the condescension and empathy that the Coens have injected into some of their characterizations have joined forces and have become an integral whole. In a broader perspective, this factor reflects the evolution of the Coens as filmmakers — a maturity that elevates NCfOM and their new level of achievement.

  13. **SPOILERS**

    I’m still struggling a little with the Coen Brothers adaptation of the ending. It was just as unexpected in the book. We only learn of Moss’ sudden death secondhand. It seemed to me that McCarthy deliberately wrote the bulk of the story in cinematic terms – like a screenplay/treatment within the suspense/thriller genre. I think he did this in part to cue within the reader our easy capacity to experience a tale of high stakes risk-taking and violence as visceral entertainment.

    In part, the ending seeks to be a bracing plunge into the reality of how choices motivated by greed and misplaced cockiness place us, love ones, and others at risk of terrible consequences. It’s a credit to the story and the power of genre expectations that we struggle until the end to see Moss as anything more than a very sympathetic regular guy who loves his wife, doesn’t seek to harm anyone, and has the self assurance to think he can get away with keeping drug money that he “stumbles” upon. And to various degrees those things are true. But the sober, non-romanticized reality is that he actively (criminally) sought out the money because of greed. He knows he’s placing himself and his wife at great risk, and for what? Is any amount of money and adventure that tests our mettle worth what they stood to lose? In life there is nothing entertaining about violence or sympathetic about bad choices on this scale.

    This was only one broad ambition of the book’s ending. But I’m not even sure that the film strongly articulates it. In fact, the Coen’s choice to leave the wife’s fate a little ambiguous (though the cues of her demise are subtly present) dilutes the message. This choice also counters any prospects of the viewer gaining clear access to what the book has to say about free will and fate. Something that was made all the more challenging by the decision to include only part of a conversation between the wife and Chigurh that crucially helped the reader to more fully grasp ideas represented by his philosophy and behavior. We only get the tiniest fraction of important conversation between Moss and the character represented in the film as the girl by the pool. We get nothing of the Sheriff’s back story that helps us understand why the events and their conclusion weigh so profoundly upon him – evoking an existential crisis.

    Of course the film couldn’t practicable present all of this depth. And a film also has the right to be something very different from its source material. But rather than focusing on articulating at least one of the many messages in the ending with clarity the Coen’s give us bits and pieces that add up to nothing for sure. As such they make a confident interpretation of their message(s) elusive. We’re presented a Rorschach test. Hence viewers unfamiliar with the book, including those commenting here who are in possession of the exceptional analytical skills, are generating every manner of possible interpretation. Maybe the Coen’s intended this outcome. But I personally find it less satisfying than having at least one important message from the book clearly accessible – even if it still demands thoughtfulness and multiple viewings on the part of the moviegoer.

  14. Pierre, I love your thoughts about the issue of condescension towards character in Coen brother’s films. I think besides those hyper-sensitive to the potential feelings of others, viewers have a strong eye for and acceptance of satire. Particularly of a kind that takes small opportunities – like the ones you’ve so astutely referenced – to humanize some of their caricatures. I’d also add that one doesn’t need to look far to find larger than life and comically eccentric individuals around us. It’s just that in the Coen universes they’re more ubiquitous.

  15. “…she was in heat like an animal.”

    That’s a little too Bob Mitchum in Night of the Hunter for me, Pierre.

    I can back you up on the Scandowegians’ issues with Fargo, though. Plenty of good Minnesotans absolutely hate the film. If you’ve ever seen an unflattering photo of yourself or heard your voice on tape and said “that’s not me!”, you know why. And it pisses them off all the more that the brothers grew up there, which gives their depiction of the region a certain authority. (They’re going back there for their next film, too.)

    Getting back to a previous topic:

    Craig and Sarte, take a look what I found:

    http://www.yelp.com/user_details?userid=rNSLAabLrphlT8_zLIakhw

    Undoubtedly someone who was at The Castro that night. Know any good recipies for shoe, Sartre?

  16. frankbooth and sartre prostrated themselves before the all knowing Craig’s feet and declared in unison ‘we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy’.

  17. DAMN craig. reviews like this is could make your blog as others home page.
    well written…..and now I can’t wait for this movie.(got a list of unseen good movies)

  18. If anyone was going to be offended by the characterizations in a Coen Brothers movie, I would assume it would be Raising Arizona and not Fargo, but because Fargo recevied far more attention and accolades than Raising Arizona, I guess more people have found reason to be offended. That’s a shame, because like nearly all their films, the comedy is there but at the heart of the story are wonderful protagonists who exemplify the salt of the earth kind of folks that I think most Midwesterners would dearly hope they could be compared to. I hate to think anyone could find Marge or Norm Gunderson offensive…to do so would completely and utterly miss the point.

    (and I only point out Raising Arizona, my favorite film of theirs, simply because much of it is so ridiculously Tex Avery in style and content that it could be quite easy to see nothing but smug condenscension when there is in fact loving respect for H.I. and Ed)

    If I were to find any of their films somewhat condescending and smug, it would probably Intolerable Cruelty, where none of the characters aren’t entirely without fault and all are amoral on some level. And since there’s no evidence they were entirely responsible for that project (at least not to the extent of their other films), one can’t really hold it against them. Oh, and Intolerable Cruelty is about rich, upper class snobs, so it’s not exactly a knock against the common folk.

    Anyway, I don’t think I’m defending them from anyone here, just reacting to some of the BS I’ve seen elsewhere from less thoughtful yet more authorative critics than myself.

    I do find it a little ironic (or possibly just curious) that frankbooth is commenting on this movie, since Javier Bardem’s performance in NCFOM is frightenly reminiscent of Dennis Hopper’s absolutely terrifying performance in Blue Velvet. “Fuck Heineken…PABST BLUE RIBBON!” What was scarier…the look in Bardem’s eyes when he was punching someone’s clock or the tone of his voice when he was deciding some poor innocent’s fate in mid-conversation? Chilling doesn’t begin to describe it.

  19. Hey, man that Chigurh’s got nothin’ on Frank! YOU HEAR ME, FUCK?

    (I feel like such a trained seal sometimes. I just knew I should have gone with Maria Von Trapp when I chose my user name.)

    Actually, though, aside from being indelibly terrifying, the two characters are not that much alike. Frank is all raging id, while Chigurh is cold and deliberate in a way that reminds me more of Michael Myers (with his pasty, impassive face) or the original terminator. If Frank is a pit bull, Anton is a crocodile.

    But Chigurh is definitely in the pantheon now. Villain of the decade so far, and unlikely to be dethroned in the next two years.

  20. I had a big response all written here and then I accidentally closed the window. Sometimes I hate web browsers. I’ll try to redo it.

    I agree that Frank and Chigurh aren’t really all that alike, just equally memorable and frightening. I like the analogy of Chigurh to a crocodile, but I prefer to think of him as an old cat playing with its prey pretty much anytime he encounters anyone in the film: he’s got lots of patience until he gets annoyed, he’s made up his mind how this will end long before it’s obvious, and he’s more concerned with staying clean than he is with the outcome.

    I like to think of him as Bengal tiger. By the time you see him coming, it’s already too late.

    I was struck by how Un-Coen this movie was. Other than the scene between Harrelson and Root in the office or Jones and Dillahunt reviewing the first crime scene, very little of this movie reminded me of the Coen brothers (in style) and yet they’ve peppered the movie with references to their own work throughout. And one can’t miss the neverending string of black humor that runs throughout the movie, a hallmark of many Coen Brothers movies. I agree with Craig’s excellent review that this film owes a lot to their early work (and to some extent, Fargo). The opening montage and VO is a direct reference to the wonderful opening of Blood Simple and when Llewelyn wakes up in bed and makes a faithful decision, it’s a direct reference to H.I. in Raising Arizona. There’s also Chigurh taking a page from Smalls with the bird on the bridge.

    It’s hard on the little things in this world. Even if the little things include us.

    ****SPOILERS******

    As I saw noted elsewhere (by someone smarter than me), it’s interesting that Llewelyn’s two acts of genuine morality (going back with the water and choosing not to drink the beers in the woman’s hotel room) both ultimately become his two biggest mistakes in the story. If he had chosen different in either situation, he may have escaped, so it’s curious that his moral choices are his undoing. I know it’s been said that No Country is something of a morality tale but I think it has far more to do with the unpredictablity and uncertainty of life. Hell, Chigurh definitely discovers that after spending so much time allowing chance to determine fate: even he isn’t immune to a twist of fate and bad timing in the end. Fate even gave him the green light. Literally.

  21. Frank, me and one San Francisco diner do not a compelling argument make. (wtf, am I Yoda now all the sudden??) I’m already dying to see TWBB again, but even more so now just because…in the words of one of the punks in Dirty Harry: “I gots to know!”

    I don’t even know where to begin with the rest of the great comments on No Country. I’ve been mulling this thing over for more than a week and I haven’t been able to add it all up. I do know the movie blew me away, like a cattle gun to the forehead.

    As for character condescension, Fargo probably rubs people the wrong way the most because they’re the most regionally specific. Raising Arizona, they’re hicks but not necessarily attributable to the southwest…at least to my mind. There’s no specific group that can be offended. Intolerable Cruelty definitely skewers rich hollywood types, but they can afford plenty of therapy to get over it.

    Pierre’s comment about the wife in Fargo looking foolish but mainly through the eyes of the criminals is right on. He’s also right about the counterpoint it provides when she realizes the shit is serious. You feel bad for her.

    And try to convince me that their sympathies, respect and affection don’t lie with Marge and Norm. You can’t. They’re big on taking their characters and putting them through hell only to have them come through it, changed a little sometimes for the better and sometimes not. Marge has tasted the evil in the world outside the comfort of her life and she comes back from the experience saddened and yet renewed in the love of her husband and pending motherhood.

    That’s your beautiful, non-misanthropic ending right there and you won’t find many better.

    No Country is a tougher pill to swallow. There’s a resignation to it. It doesn’t offer much to be hopeful about. But I’m getting ahead of myself….I want to reread some of your comments to make sure I’m not repeating things and then I’ll come back with more.

  22. Wow. I’m late to the party here, and I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t already been said (especially since I haven’t seen the film in question yet) but this is a very good review Craig.

  23. well i just returned from a screening and i’m exhausted.exhasting film.and those bus rides are brutual…so translation maybe more tomorrow..

    *****SPOILERS*******

    anyway on trhe water thing what was Llewelyn hoping to accomplish going back with the water ???

    just to make it harder on himself. did he have some desire to see how worse things could get?? push his ‘luck’ as much as possible ???

    and that guy in the truck ??even if Llewelyn got there and he was still alive. (how much time had passed bewteen
    his leaving the drug deal gone bad area.and his returning ???when he retuns it’s night/early a.m. hours??)

    he was going to need alot more than water.that guy didn’t seem long for this world when Llewelyn found him.really how helpful was hot water(did we see him even put it in a cooler??) gonna do…..???

    did he bring anything medical with him ??? was he going to drive him to hospital ???

    yeah going back very stupid. even more stupid to give that guy some water.

    even much more stupid.since when he left the drugs were stil in the back of whomever’s truck.

    and when he came back the drugs were gone right ??

    but come he should have known that someone would have had the area on watch.

    after the shoot out whatever. it seems no truck/car could function be used as a method of get away.

    hence forth way the drugs were still ther when Llewelyn got to seen but the money wasn’t at the scene ???

    you had to know someone had to be thinking.maybe someone going to come back for the drugs.eventually let’s wait….

    oh well i realize you you have to let each movie have a ‘gimme’ or two.

    do wonder if they could have track him. even if he hadn’t have come back.(and his truck info didn’t lead to him) via whatever tracking type device whomever had put in the bundles of money ???

    all i t take would be someone to have seen him leaving the scene and giving info.not knowing the danger they’d be putting Llewelyn in but whatever..

    anyway more on the film later.but more and more i know i’m too much of a wimp for this guy genre stuff.(sorry i don’t really care) yes the acting was great.and i guess i respect it. but did i love it. no.

    am i going to root for it come oscar time. no.

    do i want to own the dvd. no……

    do i want to see it again.no…

    where the losers/wimps at ????

    come on, enough crime stuff. how about something different. or is even wanting that/too indie ???

    where the losers at ????

  24. also another in the ‘gimme’ department ????

    ***MORE SPOILERS*****

    how did whomever capture anton?? you know when the film started.the police guy was on the phone describing things.the devicethat looked like needed for oygen etc.

    ok when thy/he ?? captured anton did he not put up a fight ??

    was he captured by just one guy ??

    considering how dangerous beyond resourceful we discover anton to be as the film progresses. why would one cop be phone with his back turned.with anton a few feet behind him ??? did i miss something???

    was anton in the just in the same room in handcuffs. or did he break out of cell or something ??? did i miss something.

    ok cutting the comp off for today.back to tomorrow…

  25. Glimmer, I spent some time after walking out of the movie and noted numerous contrivances in the plot that I can only assume McCarthy explains in his novel. It donned on me you could easily pick this movie apart because the plot has numerous holes (or at least many unexplained coincidences).

    But then it donned on me that as I watched the movie, none of that mattered to me. I enjoyed it far too much for what it was to be caught up in the myriad plot details. I’m sorry you weren’t able to see past that but as far as I’m concerned, none of that mattered to me. The acting, the dialogue, the cinematography, the editing all far surpassed any weaknesses in the plotting.

    As for it being a simple crime story, I thought there was honestly way more going on than that.

    Oh well, you win some, you lose some…

  26. ******SPOILER*****

    “That’s a little too Bob Mitchum in Night of the Hunter for me, Pierre.”

    I guess to each his own, Frank. Although now I’m confused. My take is that swimming pool lady died because she was with Llewellyn (either during or before sex). He got away temporarily but later died in the parking lot.

    Was I smoking too much dope or something?

  27. ***SPOILERS******

    The only really implausible plot turn in the novel was Llewelyn returning with the water. For the very kinds of reasons identified here by Glimmer. Everything else was either plausible or acceptable in terms of their contribution to its themes. The film version does have more holes in it but like Joel I wasn’t distracted by them given the film’s many wonderful qualities.

    It’s unclear to me what the Coen’s intended by slipping in a brief scene between Llewelyn and the poolside girl. But as for what the book did between him and the equivalent character, you’re well and truly off-course Don. In fact you’re not even in the same country 🙂

  28. Well then I guess that since I didn’t read the book I’m not as crazy as I thought. Apparently, then, my interpretation is viable. The Coens wouldn’t throw in a scene for no reason.

    ****SPOILERS****

    As far as Llewellyn returning to the crime scene with water, that’s plausible enough for me. He knew he was taking a risk, but his altruism trumped his better judgment. It’s easier to forgive (even admire) a character who “does the right thing” even if it’s not the smart thing.

  29. My take on that is that it was quietly eating away at him in the back of his mind and (to borrow a reference to the scene from Raising Arizona referenced in the movie), he probably awoke from a bad guilt-ridden dream and returns with the water, knowing it’s probably a waste of time, but to do whatever he can. Clearly Llewellyn isn’t a doctor nor is he unaware of the certain-death the mexican’s gun shot wound would bring, but I think he felt he had to do something.

    And that was just not a good idea.

    To me, it was one of those moments in a Coen Brothers movie where a character makes a very fateful decision based more on their emotions than rational thought and it ends up being the crux of the story. See Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Millers Crossing, Fargo, etc for what I’m talking about here.

    If Llewellyn DIDN’T go back, I don’t think they would have made the movie. He’s just that kind of guy…tempted by opportunity, ruled by morality, undone by both.

  30. I can’t say you’re wrong Glimmer my friend, but none of the issues you raised concerned me in the slightest. Those are the kinds of questions I ask when I movie is boring the shit out of me, and No Country most certainly held my attention from beginning to end.

    Sorry the movie didn’t work for you though. I guess they can’t all be winners, right?

    ****SPOILERS******

    As for the girl in the pool…I have no opinion. I hadn’t given her much though until now. Is the question did Llewelyn fool around with her or did he not and did it lead to his demise or did it not?

    My focus for the last 24 hours has been on Carla Jean and her final showdown with Chigurh. Her rejection of Chigurh’s game is the lone bright spot in the movie. She’s saying “I’m not going to play. My life is worth more than a 50/50 coin flip. You can kill me if you’re going to kill me, but I’m better than that.” Of course it ends badly for her, but she at least retains her dignity and humanity. The question that was brought up by wiser folks than me in another forum: did this act of defiance actually throw Chigurh for a loop leading up to his car accident? Are we to believe he’s broken and on the run? Or is the accident meant to show his invulnerability?

  31. ****SPOILERS******

    For me, Chigurh’s depiction throughout the film is inconsistent with any capacity for being thrown for a loop. I find that a real stretch. And besides, the vehicle that hit him ran a red light – so he wasn’t betraying any loss of composure in response to her defiance.

    My take on the car accident was that it worked as a literal example of one not knowing what’s coming towards them. It also underscored that Chigurh was as prone to fate/choices as his victims – placing him in that exact spot at the exact time a car ran a red light. Lastly, it offered a context for him to provide the second clue to her demise – he pays the kids to keep quiet about his presence -> doesn’t want to be placed there -> because he did something incriminating in the vicinity -> letting her live is not incriminating.

  32. *****SPOILER******

    Yeah I like your way of thinking on that score. I think some people are trying too hard to make it a happy ending, like good triumphing over evil in a small way, but I think that’s a simplistic way to view it.

    Also, it doesn’t jibe with the melancholy tone struck by Tommy Lee Jones at the end.

    Still, I do view Carla Jean’s defiance as something of a small victory. She lost her life, but not her humanity.

  33. EDITOR’S NOTE: My thinking on spoilers is that I try to avoid them in my reviews, but if you’re worried about them, you should steer clear of the comments section. Most people have been really good about providing warnings, but in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget.

    Reading back over the comments so far, several important plot points slipped through unannounced. I prefer a ‘reader beware’ approach to the comments, but since we’re dealing with the movie of the year here (in my opinion), I’d rather err on the side of caution. Therefore I’ve retroactively and liberally sprinkled spoiler warnings throughout many people’s comments, just to be safe.

    Otherwise, no comments were altered in any way and I probably won’t do this again very often, if at all.

  34. Thanks Craig, although if I wanted to avoid spoilers I wouldn’t read the comments section of any posting since well, I’d expect spoilers. But then I wouldn’t have read the review either. Sorry if I blew it for anyone.

    What did annoy me was that the comments section for this movie diverted into a mini-discussion of There Will Be Blood, which was kind of annoying cause I didn’t want THAT movie to be spoiled for me. So I skipped a lot of the early comments because you kids were jumping back and forth between the two.

    Bad comment etiquette or just the danger of web comments/talkbacks? I don’t know.

  35. Most of the TWBB discussion was clearly tagged already, but there was one spot that wasn’t. It is now.

    To me the comments section is like the Wild Wild West and you get what you get, though in the future I’ll try to be more aware of off topic spoilers.

  36. joel…not to sound…but why would Llewellyn feel gulity about the dyeing guy asking for water ???

    did he shoot they guy ??? did he do anything to get him in the sitution ?? did he double cross guy ???? did the guy take a bulet that was meant for him etc???

    so i can see him feeling bad for the guy. but not feeling guilty…

    i also don’t thik Llewellyn was greedy.nah whatever started thew massacre at the drug dine gone wrong,that was greed.

    anton shooting the two guys that he went with to the drug deal gone bad scene and shooting him after he got the tracking device. hmm i’d say that was greed too.9and some other stuff)

    but l. finding the money.and wanting to keep it.not as much greed…..and i suspect that if the money was ‘clean’ L. to the rightful owner…

    i wonder ‘why’ anton wanted the money ??? well you know what i mean/it’s hard to imagine him doing anything besides killing people…..

    oh wait when he’s not killing people he’s driving to kill a few more people……

    funny blue velet got mentioned….

    although i don’t believe it.i was wonder was there a leleand/bob thing happening ala twin peaks….

    do you see anton and ed tom together ?? once ???

    whay did ed tom has such ‘respect’ for anton ??? did he babaled some speech about how in some weird way anton had principles.a moral code whatever.(something like that) ?????

    why did anton thing effect him so ????

    did anton represent what he could have become if he hadn’t went to cop/good route ?????

    and very weird??? why is it after we know L. lost the war/is dead and ed tom goes back to crime/death scece.tears the don’t enter police yellow tape and goes in the hotel….

    anyway beside me thing when he first entered the room.the way the shadow looked it looked like some was hanging??but then ed tom moves and it seem it was just his shadow..

    wait…*backtrack* before entering the hotel. ed keeps looking the were the dead bolt.on on the door was.

    and the way it step up.what with the refelection ?? you begin to think anton was in the hotel ???and yep you got a second or two shot of anton in the darkness hiding with his gun ?????

    but if anton was in the hotel why didn’t he shoot ed tom ?? it’s not he had a problem shooting everyone else.

    and he would have even had a perfect chance when ed tom put his weapon away.and sat on the bed???

    was the shoot of anton supposed to represent when anton was hiding and got the drop/shot L. ???

    but L.’s body was shown pretty much in front of door/when we saw hin dead/covered in blood.

    if anton had already broke in the room.again the dead bolt id broken via his trademark..

    L. wouldn’t have went in the room.

    and the it looks like l. was shot in chest. while being a few feel directly behind the door ??? huh ????

    poolside girl. when i first say her i was thinking someone using her to get to L.. you know get him to drop his guard.while he’s thinking he’s going to ‘get wet’ and then kill him.

    oh guess that didn’t happen.maybe poolside girl died because.because maybe she didn’t get L.

    but when anton came she tried to hit on him.and said something he didn’t like and he gave her the famous ‘you call it’ line and she lost…. ????

    and i really hope anton didn’t kill carla jean. but he probably did he seemed pretty hapy living the house.and the way he checked his shoes/boot whatever made me think he was checking for blood…

    *darn* 😦

  37. craig..if he was thrown for a loop. whay did anton seem so happy when he was leaving the house ???

    maybe he enjoyed killing someone that stood up to him.even more…

    he may have got thrown for a loop because he may have been getting paranoid.he re checks his mirror for kids…on a bike.

    you figure with all the killing and killings he’s done.someone got to have friend that wants to even to score.and it may be hard to stop what’s coming.if you *don’t* know what’s coming….

    also i wonder if wal mart is going to complain ?????

    you know..they live in a trailer park…..and and L. tells carla she doesn’t have to go back to wal-mart….

  38. “letting her live is not incriminating.”

    True enough, sartre. But, just to split hairs a bit, why would Anton want to stick around? He’s already wanted by the police for multiple murders — including a cop — and if I’m not mistaken he was driving a stolen pickup.

    I tend to think the Coens slipped in some tipoffs to those familiar with the book, but maybe they left it vague to placate film audiences.

    I read an interview with the Coens about the ending, and the reaction was “not this again.” But I really wonder if they regret doing the ending they did. And if they do, I wonder if they’d rather be MORE faithful to the book rather than less so.

  39. **SPOLIER**

    You have a point, Pierre. Maybe Anton was being extra-cautious. But then again, the Police didn’t seem to have anything to link him to the earlier crimes.

    It’s very hard for me to interpret the film’s open-ended elements without bringing to them my knowledge of the book. This is probably the only film I wish I’d seen before reading the book. Instead of being blown away by what must be a powerful story to have unfold in front of you for the first time – I was a little removed from it. I knew every thrilling aspect of characterization and plot before it came up. And for me the book’s strengths in terms of ideas and emotional resonance were greatly diluted by the film’s closing sections. As I’m sure you would anticipate Pierre, I feel that if the Coens were going to have the courage to go so far towards the book’s ending, then why didn’t they go a little further and nail the fucker? I still thought it an amazing film, but for these reasons it didn’t quite capture my heart.

  40. glimmer: I thought he might have felt guilty for taking the money and the gun and leaving the man to die. It’s really the same as feeling bad for him I suppose.

    sartre: I try to avoid the book before the movie simply because, like you, I can’t divorce myself from the expectations of the written word and how I mentally interpreted it vs the film version. Which inevitably leads to the “book was better”…although not reading the book first sure wouldn’t have made DaVinci Code any less mind-numbing.

    As for the ending and the Coens, I could be wrong but I’m guessing they hate having to repeatedly answer simplistic questions on these press junketts, but I always figured they don’t mind confounding audiences for better or worse. I’ve never seen them ever explain the meaning of The Man Who Wasn’t There or Barton Fink and they have always deftly deflected questions on the hat in Miller’s Crossing. I don’t think they went out of their way to make it oblique…it’s just that the themes of the movie are equally open-ended and unresolved. Their interviews do indicate a deep respect for the novel and McCarthy though.

    Just my two cents.

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