STUDIO: Miramax
MSRP: $29.98
RUNNING TIME: 122 Minutes

  • Working with the Coens
  • The Making of No Country for Old Men
  • Diary of a Country Sheriff

The Pitch

You may have heard about this film. It was reviewed here a couple of times. Made a few lists. Won a few awards. Fucked your mom in the tub.

The Humans

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writer: Ethan & Joel Coen

Cinematographer: Roger Deakins

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones. Josh Brolin. Javier Bardem. Kelly MacDonald. Barry Corbin. Garrett Dillahunt.

It then dawned on Alvin that he remembered to bring his headhole.

The Nutshell

To the White Sea fell through, so the Coens decided to adapt another barren and classic piece of literature. The results are better than you and I deserved.

The Lowdown

There’s an incredible economy to No Country for Old Men. There is absolutely no fat or a single wasted moment. Not a piece of useless dialogue. Not a decision that rings untrue. Part of that definitely can be traced back to Cormac McCarthy’s threadbare but insanely rich novel but just as much can be said about the entire tapestry of people involved in the film from the Coens right on down to the person in charge of the squib that explodes against the shower curtain during one of the film’s jarring and sudden moments of violence. It’s seamless and effortless to the viewer and undoubtedly the result of the finest craftsmen and women in the filmmaking world simply at the top of their game.

“What’s this Autobot’s name again?”                “Thích Quảng Đức.”

One of the signs of a true classic lies in how different and equally satisfying different people’s interpretations are of it. If you look at this site’s assault of DVD reviews of this film you’ll get a handful of drastically different takes that all share common ground by virtue of the fact that the film hardwired itself to the viewer/reviewer in a way they aren’t likely to shake. Whether viewed as a metaphor, western, action flick, character study, or crime thriller No Country for Old Men is wholly successful and that rare acclaimed film that allowed the voters and critics to customize it to their own divergent motivations. The result was Oscar gold so I’m not complaining.

Another sign of a film being a genuine classic is what subsequent viewings leave you hungry for. The first time I saw the film my mind was trying to digest everything onscreen, soaking it in. Trying to remember what was and wasn’t from the source novel. What did and didn’t feel like Coen signatures. What Roger Deakins was doing with the light and shadow. The stuff that creates the foundation of one’s opinion. The second viewing was geared more towards the three performances that the film hinged upon. Each viewing from there on led me down different paths, all extremely and wholly satisfying.

Now I watch the film and am triggered by tiny moments. Delicious little things that are unique to this film. The look Josh Brolin gives as he tries to cross the border, beer in hand and straining to maintain his composure. The look Javier Bardem gives when he tells the shop owner that his lucky quarter is after all, just a quarter. Tommy Lee Jones’ introductory voiceover and the gravelly warmth it provides. The reflection of Anton Chigurh in the ratty television in Moss’s trailer. Little things that instantly trigger the brain into gushing massive love for the material.

I can watch this movie in its entirety now just to experience one little tiny moment like the ones mentioned above. That’s either blind obsession or love, both of which are emotions consistent with classic cinema.

Kinda nice to finally see what inspired H.P. Lovecraft to write all that creepy shit.

Back on point:

When I read the
novel, it was right around the time our resident know-it-all Russ
Fischer was in Toronto seeing the film. When I reached the point in the
book that firmly shifts the narrative from the Llewelyn Moss [longtime
beloved of mine, Josh Brolin] character to the Tom Bell [Tommy Lee
Jones, whom my father-in-law mistakenly assumed was just playing
himself here] I was as taken aback in the same way as many of the
viewers of the film were. Then, after finishing the book and rereading
it, it became absolutely vital to the what makes the story and meaning
behind it so pitch perfect.

In fact, the last seconds we see
Moss/Brolin smiling at the beer girl at the pool at the hotel is
undoubtedly my very favorite moment in the movie. A little glimpse at
the man Moss was before he found the money that sets the story into
motion. The Moss we never got to know. One of very few softer moments
in a very hard movie.

Funnily enough, this is most certainly a movie that registers a lot more with males than females. Not a “guy film” per se, but definitely one that savors the bleakness and question marks that permeate it. This is not a film that answers more questions than it presents. It’s a deceptively dense film and on principle a lot of more casual viewers and yes [though I’m not trying to gender profile] women like things to wrap up nice and tidy. There are exceptions to the rule of course, like 90% of the ladies who read this site. This is not a site that caters to people anxiously awaiting the next Hudson/McConaughey flick. No Country for Old Men is about uncertainty and doubt and how life eludes definition and meaning. The choices people make and the consequences they lead to and how law and rules and a higher power bend to plain old actions.

It’s also a film willing to let its wild spirit and unpredictability spill out onto its audience. Which is a vicious and brilliant way of telling a story. When the audience finally realizes who the story is really about, many of them can’t handle it. The tonal change. The lack of a chance to say goodbye to a character they thought they’d be following until the end credits. The sheer amount of rug being pulled out from under them.

Another sign of a classic. Fearlessness.

A look at the unreleased ‘Love Conquers All’ ending to Office Space.

The film could easily be misconstrued as the Anton Chigurh show. It’s Javier Bardem’s performance that won the big statue and it’s one of the most iconic in recent memory but as good as it is, it’s only made possible by the counterbalancing work by Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. Chigurh is the force of nature at the center of the storm of violence. A being operating on a bizarre but some moral code and in fact of the three leads it’s Brolin’s character who operates in a place most devoid of an honor code. Chigurh’s every moment onscreen is magical. You don’t want to blink. The way Bardem owns the role, carries himself, speaks in that hollow and soulless timbre. The hair. The eyes. The uncomfortable smile. In the same way Kevin Spacey owned Verbal Kint and Anthony Hopkins owned Hannibal Lecter, Bardem creates a persona that transcends performance and becomes something else.

Brolin actually has the unfortunate task of doing most of his work silently. It’s a very physical performance and when we meet Moss as he’s hunting there’s virtually no dialogue [which is part of why I see the Coens as partially exorcising their James Dickey demon here]. It makes his nomination that much sweeter, because he doesn’t have Bardem’s amazing palette of options at his disposal nor Jones’ rich and textured ponderings. He’s a catalyst and the driving force for much of the film’s running time but more often than not it’s his charge to be the straight man to two very powerful actors and characters. In time his work here may be the most respected.

As an aside, next time I watch the film I’m going to count Brolin’s lines. Can’t be that many in there.

Then there’s Jones. His role is thankless only by virtue of the fact that he has to do the procedural work for a portion of the story. He has to be a cop. Talk to people. Ruminate. Deal with paperwork. It’s easy to look at Sheriff Bell as simply the tour guide here, but once the shit hits the fan in the film’s third act [is it me or is it a very truncated act?], Jones absolutely delivers the finest work of his career. Including U.S. Marshalls.

The scene in Ellis’s [Barry Corbin, a long way from Wargames] house is absolutely staggering in its writing, execution, and performance. It lets the air out of the balloon in such a way that I cannot see how anyone cannot see this movie and write it off as anything less than a major accomplishment.

Then there’s the Coen Brothers, arguably the most talented and unique pair of people making movies today and for nearly any day that preceded it. That their presence is both invisible and on every frame of this film is a testament to the quality of the work it’s based on, their grasp of their craft, and the overriding truth that this film is something we are given all too rarely in our cinematic lives.

Yeah, I liked it.

“I pissed on a spark plug. It didn’t help.”

The Package

You should know by now that if it’s a Coen Brothers film on DVD you’re not going to get much out of it in the way of content. The three somewhat meager little featurettes here are certainly engaging enough but it’s impossible not to crave much more than what they provide. The problem is ours, I suppose. A film like this simply begs for a gigantic DVD. One which’ll probably never come.

9.5 out of 10