And no rock n’ roll for Tim Roth.
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RUNNING TIME: 122 min
* Working with The Coens
* The Making of No Country for Old Men
* Diary of a Country Sheriff
And on the sixth day, God created man…to mess around in all of the money and drugs he created on the fifth day.
Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Garret Dillahunt, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root.
The Coen Brothers invade the mind, body, and soul of Cormac McCarthy to produce one of the best movies in a year full of great ones: Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, There Will Be Blood, Disturbia. The list just goes on. Utilizing a game cast of no-brainers (Jones, Bardem) and inspired-brainers (Brolin, Harrelson, and MacDonald), the brothers spin a blood-soaked tale of a cowboy with a case full of ill-gotten gains, the killer hot on his trail, and a sheriff trying to stop the inevitable from writing itself into history. In No Country, the Coens deliver unto us their best flick since Fargo. Hell, since maybe ever. Back at the top o’ the heap, they be.
As soon as Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) touches that briefcase full of money, it’s over. But, to be honest, it seems over already. Before the viewer can even catch a scant scent of a plot, arctic-blooded Anton Chigurh (Bardem) is gearing up to kill a young deputy to the tune of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s (Jones) dusty-voiced narration. Bell is telling us how things used to be better, kinder, and saner. And when Chigurh strangles the baby-faced deputy using the very cuffs the officer fitted him with, brutally severing the man’s jugular vein in the process, well…if we didn’t already believe what Bell just said, here’s the hard evidence. The world, according to McCarthy, is not aging like a fine wine. (But you better believe that blood is going to flow like it’s the cheap stuff.) Yet, to paraphrase the sheriff Bell shares dinner with late into the movie, that doesn’t quite say it. And that, I think, is the beauty and the horror of No Country for Old Men. Like a person who has lived a long life, the movie at times seems self-righteous in its belief that things used to be better. But – and here’s the genius of the movie, I think – by the end of the story, something butts right up against that line of thinking. You can see it in the worn face of the newly retired Sheriff Bell. As Bell tells his wife and us about the two dreams he had the night before, using words that the Coens pulled straight out of McCarthy’s novel, something is certain: It’s always been worse.
There’s a hole’in my Brolin.
At least, I think that’s what it’s saying. I guess I’ll have to watch it over…again and again, for years to come. Thing is, and you guys may have heard whispers of this, some folks have a problem with the ending to this movie. And it’s hard to blame them, really. The conclusion Bell has come to is something that no one wants their brains to chew on. Here’s a man at the end of it, eyes wide – and what he’s saying certainly doesn’t act like Tums on stomachs still churning from the vision of Bardem’s strangle-face in the first few moments of the film:
Also what he looks like while playing tabletop Pac-Man.
In fact, Bell’s thin voice is meant to hammer home in us that same sense of loss that he awakens to every single day. And, boy howdy, we’re not used to leaving the theater like that. We want comeuppance, in both bold and underlined. A prettier finish. And, possibly, one of two Spin Doctors songs to play through the credits (which is why I usually take my iPod with me to the movies.) This final scene, that close-up of Bell’s haunted face, IS the movie, in my opinion. And Jones does a beautiful, unforgettable job with this last bit.
Anyway, welcome to No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers’ it’s-about-time return to cinematic confidence. Their last two movies (not counting their segment in Paris, je t’aime) seemed made by filmmakers as uncomfortable with their gifts as Anton Chigurh seems to be in human skin. The Ladykillers, especially, made it seem like our beloved Coens had been body-snatched. Fear not! The gross pod alien creatures have retracted their deadly Xerox-capable tendrils from the talented duo (sorry, just caught the Sutherland-starring invasion saga on Starz). There’s nary a false note rung here. In fact, as bleak as the film is, the Coens are in playful mood – quietly referencing themselves while faithfully animating the mechanics and tone of McCarthy’s book. For example, I can’t watch the scene where Chigurh, while driving, shoots at a bird without thinking of the great Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb tossing a grenade at a rabbit in Raising Arizona. Even the wood paneling that adorns the inside of Moss’s trailer recalls the paneling, scrawled-over with the word FART, that covered the walls of H.I. McDunnough’s mobile home. Bear with me, folks! This shot below reminded me of Barton Fink:
And, of course, the insatiable money hunger that spirals through Fargo is alive and well here. I’m probably off base, but I can’t shake these links when I’m watching the movie. The film, most certainly, is riddled with all manner of connections between its characters. So, in the spirit, my movie nerd brain is trying to make arbitrary links. It’s catching, for Pete’s sakes! Anyway, Chigurh and Moss are indeed joined, and not just by that 2 million. It’s an almost spiritual connection. Think Hauer and Thomas Howell in The Hitcher. E.T. and Elliott. Or, actually, Bean and Bush from The Hitcher. Both men utter the words “hold still” at the beginning of the film. Both men, after being horribly wounded, rely on young men to help them get away. Both turn this into a financial transaction, by the way. And both Chigurh and Moss have heightened, unrealistic ideas of what they mean to the world. Chigurh envisions himself as nothing short of a god walking among man – dealing out death as if he’s carrying out the instructions of some higher power. But Carson Wells, another bounty hunter after Moss, calls him out on this. He rightfully sums up the killer as crazy when he finds himself on the business end of Chigurh’s silenced shotgun – a weapon, along with this cattle-brainer, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on the screen before. Moss, on the other hand, is just pounded by wave after wave of pain as soon as he, in a beautiful and admittedly dumb moment of retroactive kindness, goes back to deliver a jug of tap water to a dying and parched man. Wells also sums up Moss, quite cleanly. “You’re not cut out for this,” he tells him, as the cowboy recovers in a Mexican hospital after his meet-cute with Chigurh the day before. Not that it does him much good in the end, but Wells is the smartest character in this thing. And I love Woody Harrelson’s half-cocky, half-aw-shucks portrayal of him.
Anton turns on his favorite Britcom, Bean and Bush.
The Coens really did do an excellent job in the casting of this movie. They put Clooney in the cedar chest for a few months (No Clooney for Coen). There’s no McDormand anywhere to be found. No John Goodman or John Turturro. Hell, not even Jon Polito pops up. The one exception is Stephen Root, whose appearance is a little jarring. Other than Root, the brothers really went outside their comfort zone this time. Or their casting folks did – I’m still not sure how Hollywood really works. Jones, of course, was born for roles like this. But plucking Brolin from his holding pattern of doing great work in forgettable movies is certainly an inspired rescue. Bardem’s performance, of course, became the critical darling. And his character is certainly the movie’s icing. You’ve got to really love how Bardem plays him. His walk seems infused with a Jason Voorhees-like calm. His weird hairdo only amplifies his portrayal of a man at odds within his (let me get the thesaurus out here) humansuit. But my love extends to the characters we spend less time with. Kelly MacDonald, who is great in pretty much any movie I’ve seen her in (Trainspotting, Gosford Park), is excellent as Moss’s loyal, Wal-Mart cashiering wife. She’s just as much of a stand-out as Bardem. She’s Scottish! How they ever thought of her for this…. I also really enjoyed Garret Dillahunt’s (so great in Deadwood) humorous scenes with Bell. And Barry Corbin who, in his one brief scene, gives the movie its best scene. Well, one of its best scenes. There are a ton of them in here. The dog chase through the river. Bell’s tour of the massacre site. Chigurh’s twist-in-the-gut conversation with the gas station owner. Wells quickly deducing where the money is hidden. And, of course, that last scene. It’s hard to think of another movie made recently that has so many remarkable, expertly crafted scenes. Other than Disturbia, I mean.
The term an instant classic sounds, well, dumber than hell. But the Coens have surely made one here. A great story, well told. Be nice if there were more of those. You know, like in the old days.
Certainly on par with the look Caruso managed for Disturbia.
Like McCarthy, the Coens are fairly reclusive gents, so it’s no surprise that this DVD is as bare bones as the movie’s score. No commentary track, no gag reel, no (sheriff) bells and whistles. There are three featurettes that, while short on depth, provide at least a glimpse into the brothers’ filmmaking process. Their cast and crew seem as in awe of them as we are. There’s also a nice moment where the Coens crack each other up talking about the Carla Jean character. But, in the end, the extras seem like an afterthought. I’m sure, since the movie ended up winning the Oscar, we’ll be seeing a different version of the DVD down the line. But there’s no reason not to make a home for this disc in your collection right now. This is a beautiful transfer of an excellent film, and that’s reason enough to own it. The movie, among other things, is about possession and greed. I recommend you follow suit.