Thursday, November 29, 2007

Review: No Country for Old Men

(This is a review by Negativespace, a friend that will be doing movie reviews for us regularly. I know this movie came out a couple weeks ago, but the posting delay is my fault, and future reviews will be much more timely. I figured some people would be interested in talking about this movie anyway. Thanks. SR)

Most of what you've read about the Coen Brothers' latest is true: return to form, perfectly orchestrated, masterfully executed, beautifully photographed, tremendously violent and bleak as all-get-out. But what you haven't heard is that ultimately, all these things end up working against it.

Cormac McCarthy, arguably the best living American (fiction) writer today, wrote the 2005 novel from which the Coens unsparingly adapted this perfectly calibrated crime drama where specifics are immaterial: anonymous drug money, anonymous dead Mexicans and anonymous dead dogs all set the scene for a picture-perfect anonymous drug deal gone awry, leaving a briefcase with 2 million bucks to fall into the unfortunate lap of Nam vet turned hunter Llewellyn Moss (a surprising Josh Brolin), planting him forever in the oversized shadow of bounty hunter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem.), who has been hired by some pseudo-anonymous businessmen to reclaim the missing money. Although Chigurh (pronounced su-gar) is a "bounty hunter," it is clear from the movie's first few moments that he isn't merely some nasty enforcer assigned to recover the drug money-- rather, he represents some amalgamation of dark forces with a greater purpose that seems to add up to little more than pure evil. Operating without license from any earthly outfit, he haunts the Texas landscape with his "cattle gun," dispatching souls and offering his unique brand of life-coaching to anyone who has the misfortune to land in his path en route to poor outmatched and outgunned Llewellyn.

The Coens, given their tendencies, likely gravitated toward Cormac McCarthy's novel for no other reason than the possibilities that arise from putting Javier Bardem in a page-boy 'do and watching him spill almost unthinkable volumes of blood. And although this is more than enough gimmick to sustain a two-hour movie, the Coens overreach.

The ultimate thrust of the story is pure McCarthy territory--unmitigated evil outmatching its meek prey (among them, a pillar of Texas grace, Tommy Lee Jones). But unfortunately, this is not Coen Brothers territory. They tangle their trademark quirky genre fuck-yous with McCarthy's pessimistic fatalism in an equation that just doesn't seem to add up. The impeccable architecture of the story and its execution were more than enough to elevate No Country from a mere crime-genre entry into an artistic achievement perhaps unmatched in the Coen canon. But then, in the waning moments of the film, the preceding magic is reframed in an even bleaker, ultimately hopeless hue, transforming the suspension of disbelief a viewer has labored to sustain throughout the film into a philosophical construct. The resulting dissonance is the Coens' real gift to you: the awkward space between their own cynicism and McCarthy's pessimism.

I understand perfectly that McCarthy's novel served as their narrative template, but it's in articulation where a story finds it's levity, and the Coens (tripping over Billy Bob's withered corpse) just don't speak McCarthy's language. There's a degree of the Coens' trademark hokey camp to the film's more nefarious elements that is troublingly recast in the concrete of real-life when we are forced to buy into its triumph. So deviously constructed is their own genre exercise, so nervy and breathless, that it renders the existential chord they strike in the final act bloated and woefully unconvincing, negating all that came before--much to my personal aggravation. Subversion of narrative convention is cool and all, especially in the service of ponderous old-man philosophical sermonizing, but its drawn in such bold strokes here that it feels kind of insulting.

Of course, this is the point. The Coens have made a cottage industry of condescending to their characters, their settings, and their audiences. It's just that usually it doesn't sting so badly. The film is devilishly entertaining and expertly made, but its nagging insistence of being taken seriously shines a big, bright light on its failings. Its possible that the Coens intend this movie as some sort of rebuke to critics who say they laugh irresponsibly at their own violence, but I doubt it. It's very likely that all these themes are explored much more satisfactorily in McCarthy's book too, presently available at most airports and all Malls and the Southwest Branch of the Mesquite Library.

Afterthought: Anyone with evil Chigurh's Promethean prowess could likely just as easily knock over an armored car or commit serial credit fraud without leaving a trail of collateral damage 16 corpses long. But then, what would he do with the Cattle Gun? Verdict: There is no real gravity in learning that Tommy Lee Jones is no match for the Bogeyman. Worth Your Time. Not Your Money.

40 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

ouch...

1:00 PM  
Blogger drex said...

of course there is no gravity in finding bell is no match chigurh, to me there was never any question of that, the play here is between bell, his devolving environment and his own mortality

the scene near the end with the aging ex-cop and the final monologue tell the story here in my opinion

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved the movie. Actually liked it better than the book (which is rare). The Road is a better book than No Country.. am i gay for thinking that?

1:56 PM  
Anonymous damn gina said...

Oh great -- now we get postured, contrarion-for-the-sake-of-being-contrary views of great movies, too.

Fucking hooray.

Even if you don't agree with the denouement, the film is still well worth your money. It's far better than 99% of the schlock out there, Negativeface.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with anon 2:04. what a shit review.

on another note: "before the devil knows you're dead" is the best movie out right now.

2:10 PM  
Blogger NegativeSpace said...

This is even more fun than I'd expected. I'll let the shit really dogpile before I address it so as to streamline my efforts, energy, and time.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that comment surely didn't help substantiate your review.

2:31 PM  
Blogger drex said...

if this is fun you need to get out more

fuck your effort, energy and time

2:34 PM  
Blogger amandacobra said...

I have seen it twice and love it but I do still have serious issues with the way the movie ends. I find it to be nearly perfect save the final 15 minutes. No spoilers. But I hear that the book ends the exact same way.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

unless you're gonna review old, timeless, and possibly obscure shit, please kill the movie reviews, I've already got the E! channel, I've heard nothing but blahblahblah about this movie since it came out, wtf is this crap? this movie needs no exposure, this is the kinda shit you talk about while eating baby back ribs at Chili's... hate it :(

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where's the Paramore review?

3:10 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I love movies! Superbad is my favorite so far this year.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McLovin is the shit......Nuff said.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why do a review in a paragraph when a 1000 word overwrought essay will do? this thing reads like a fucking pitchfork music review. i could feel my eyes glazing halfway through.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amandacobra - yes the book ends the same way. Bell's monologue is just longer. Oh.. and the main difference between the book and the movie is the way they develop the relationship between Moss and the random girl he meets.. I dont want to spoil anything here but.. the book explains it a bit better..

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus, you people need to lighten up.

If hanging in a blog comment section while you are at work is not the same as talking with friends at a Chili's after a night at the movies, then you are lost and take yourself too seriously. 1,090,000,000 websites in the world. Do you bitch at the rest of them for not meeting your lofty hopes and dreams and rules that seem to ruin this website for casual viewing and time wasting? My god, who the fuck with any real life at all even talks about Pitchfork with any blush of emotion anyway? Why are you people so caught up in having opinions about peoples opinions? You should start a blog where all you do is gripe about what other blogs say. What a bunch of turds.

Thanks for the review. Since I like the movie, it's nice to hear another opinion on it, especially from one of my favorite work time wasters where I catch up on a little bit of local what's what.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous damn gina said...

Whoah, hoss, easy does it. Awfully emotional for a guy telling everyone to "lighten up". Take your own advice and float to the surface, buddy.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Ogre From Revenge Of The Nerds said...

Shut up nerds.

5:00 PM  
Blogger drex said...

but your bitching about people bitching?

and now allow me to bitch about you bitching about people bitching about this guys movie bitch

my awesome blossom just arrived...brb

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

EVERYBODY HAS A REALLY GOOD POINT

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just sayin...

5:05 PM  
Anonymous damn gina said...

Turds, nerds, and ...

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

loved the movie. no need for self important over analyzing, its a good movie.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember when MTV used to play videos? How many local releases have there been in the last couple months?

6:15 PM  
Blogger JessecaB said...

Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting my precious time when I read this blog. Yet I just keep coming back for more.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does anyone even read this bullshit? Now it's bad reviews of good movies, too? Get a life, nerds. You aren't real journalists and no one cares what you think.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Wildcat said...

is that bryant gumble doing play-by-play for the cowboys game tonight?

7:37 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

615- how many local releases have there been in recent months? many. how many have we been interested in? several. Have we reviewed them all? no. are we going to cover several of them before the end of the year? yes. why haven't we done it sooner? because we're all people with personal and professional lives doing this in our spare time (i.e. nights and weekends). That doesn't mean you can't tell us we suck if you feel like it, but it is the reason why we can't write everything we want to when we want to. We're also working on some really cool stuff for the blog that has taken up a lot of our time.


and 642- tons of people care very deeply about what we think. what are you, stupid?

8:22 PM  
Blogger gmlondonjr said...

Damn Gina needs a Pulitzer prize immediately.

Also, blogs (suck/ do not suck) and (are/ are not) for nerds.

Discuss.

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if real journalist do what our local media does.. well then we don\'t want to be real journalists..

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Writer of this thing...

Change your tone a bit. Beyond your good basic recap, I think your analysis could be pared down and still make some valid points. You bring up good issues but some of your shit makes me cringe, kind of embarrassing.

Personally, if I read something that makes me feel empathy for the writer, I have to acknowledge it. I'm thinking more about why you writing in the way you are, than what you are saying.

Not that I don't understand what you saying, I'm just wondering why you are doing donuts when you could be cruising in a straight line.

Google "George Orwell's 12 Writing Tips".


Yours,

A Surprising Josh Brolin

1:21 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

There shouldn't be a comma after the word "are" in the second paragraph.

Also, just before the word "writing" in the second paragraph, you need to add the word "are," or change "you" to "you're," or change the tense of the sentence all together.

Yours,

Smarter Than You

1:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can bitch about his grammar, you cant bitch about his logic.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

his logic was about grammar

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol

Now I remember why I dont read this shit.

BACK TO THE PART SHIT

2:34 PM  
Blogger Scarlett said...

I loved this movie.

I just wish Woody would have been in it a little longer.

Great movie.

I thought the ending was perfect.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

doing donuts

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Negativespace-
I wish you'd put this line a little earlier, so I'd have known what an ignorant hack you are and not wasted my time: "It's very likely that all these themes are explored much more satisfactorily in McCarthy's book too, presently available at most airports and all Malls and the Southwest Branch of the Mesquite Library."
So you're writing a 1,000 page review of a movie based on the work of America's greatest living author, and you haven't even read the book in question? Then you take some completely irrelevant jabs at where books are found? We can't all buy books at Recycled or wherever you book shop.
And while it's a cool, unique weapon, the cattle gun isn't just a gimmick. It represents Chigurh's dehumanization of his victims.
"Worth Your Time. Not Your Money." Wow, congratulations on coming up with such a kewl new way to rank movies. I was so tired of point rankings, stars, letter grades and thumbs. Finally, a breath of fresh air in film ranking systems!
The movie wasn't perfect, but it was still great. I understand being contrarian for the sake of argument, but you're making yourself look like a fool. Not knowing the difference between "its" and "it's" didn't help your case, either.
Anon 4:21 is right. Also, I think the book explains Chigurh's motives a little better too. As in, he actually has a motive. He is evil incarnate, but it's not just about money and revenge.
1:56, you're not gay. I liked The Road better, and I only top, so I can't be gay. Therefore, you're not gay.

-muffin man fan

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was wondering if negativespace was going to keep plagiarizing manny farber for reviews in the future?

1:19 PM  
Blogger NegativeSpace said...

Anon 1:19pm

Thank you for finally sending some praise my way.

Though I might argue that it's a bit inaccurate.

6:49 PM  

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