Thursday, June 24, 2010

No Country For Old Men (2007)

"The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, "O.K., I'll be part of this world."

That opening stretch of dialogue I always keep returning to. Taken verbatim from Cormac McCarthy's novel, it lays out the core themes of the film in the first 5 minutes. While this is going on, we are shown wide vistas of Texas. These shots would not be out of place in a Western, which is one of the genres No Country is apart of. Not only that, it shares the themes of the dying old west but at the same time flips them on its head and adds in thriller elements.

NCFOM was adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel. It is rife with material that would seem to suit the Coens: money, random violence and normal people getting caught up in terrible events.

The performances in this film are top notch. Josh Brolin, plays Llewelyn Moss. A gristled country boy who ends up stumbling upon the site of a drug shooting. He ends up finding a satchel of money. A device used in previous works like Fargo & Big Lebowski and as in those films it is used as a MacGuffin. It brings no peace of mind and no prosperity. The specific era the movie takes place (1980) is significant for marking a change of the direction of our country.

Anton Chigur, the cold hearted embodiment of evil played by Javier Bardem, is a contracted mercenary whose bizarre idea of freewill involves flipping a coin to determine whether you live or not. It is the best he can offer to those in dire circumstances. This is executed to great effect in a gas station scene.

The majority of the film focuses on the tense moments between Llewelyn & Anton, but the core character in the middle of the mess is Sheriff Tom Bell, an aged lawman of a simpler day and age where things were less chaotic. It is his story which elevates the material from being a tense thriller to a great film.

Longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins photographed the film and it is his richest work yet. Another frequent collaborator, Carter Burwell is less prominent. His scores have added extra dimensions to films like Barton Fink and Fargo. Here the score and music are almost non existant. In this film the directors take a page out of Hitchcock's book on how to use sound to the effect of adding tension.

The final 20 minutes of the film revolve around fate. "A man can't escape what's coming to him." is a phrase uttered by one of Sheriff Bell's friends. It leads to a haunting ending about the death of the old way of life. To Sheriff Bell violence, is just an outcome of recent moral deterioration. This is the darkness his father was guiding him though in his dream.

It's a theme that runs through many of the Coen Brother films. Most specifically Fargo. As generations progress and the world around us becomes more and more violent, we can only stand back in observation and accept it and say O.K. I'll be part of this world.

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