No Country For Old Men is the latest movie masterpiece by the brothers Joel and Ethan Coen. Though I haven't really loved their last two movie Intolerably Cruelty and The Ladykillers their past films like Blood Simple, Millers Crossing, Fargo and The Big Lebowski are staples of indie genre gold.
"NCFOM" is about a welder named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who, while hunting near the Rio Grande, stumbles on a botched drug deal and finds a case filled with two million dollars. He of course grabs the money and hightails it back to his trailer home and long suffering wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald), but in a moment of consciousness, goes back to give one of the dying drug dealers a drink of water. This seals his fate when Anton Chigurh (Javier Bordem), a psychopathic killer, shows up with a device usually used to slaughter cattle and an unlucky coin that determines the destiny of many characters.
But "NCFOM" isn't really about Lewelynn at all. It's about ageing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Who is privy to Llewelyn's plight and who's main preoccupation is to lament the passing of an age when using Sir and Ma'am was a sign of good character.
SPOILER ALERT!!!I did not read the Cormac McCarthy novel. But from all I've read the movie follows it pretty faithfully. Which can be a blessing or a curse depending on your view. A lot of people seemed to have a problem with the Llewelyn character dying off screen. Which goes against conventional wisdom. I was fine with it because in the end it wasn't really his story. It was Ed Tom Bell's story. His voice can be heard over the sparse landscape at the beginning and his recounting of a dream he had bookends the film. He has the biggest character change throughout the picture and the title speaks directly of him. He is the old man who finds it hard to find a place in this new country.
This is one of the most un-coen like movies they have ever made. Their surreal tendencies are submerged so much that at first look a casual movie goer might not recognize it as a Coen brothers movie. Yet they still manage to slip in coen-esque touches like vomiting, voice over, hats ( Texas T type here) and weird haircut.
Also of note is the almost total lack of music. Which actually works to increase the tension especially in the shoot out between Llewelyn and Chigurh which is milked to great effect.
The only thing I really have issue with is the last 20 minutes of the film. I had the same complaint with The Big Lewboski. Both these movies seem to squander all the great movie making that has gone on for the last 100 minutes and leaves us with a so-so ending that tastes lukewarm. There are two parts I want to talk about.
First everyone seems to be confused with the scene when Ed Tom Bell goes into the hotel room and Chigurh appears to be hiding in there and then isn't. Why is Chigurh there? We don't need him except to add tension to a discovery scene that might not have any. But I think the discovery that Chigurh found the money Llewelyn hid in the air duct is a discovery enough to warrant the scene and so it feels like pumped up tension for tension's sake. Apparently in the book the Ed Tom Bell character doesn't enter the room. Instead drives around the block to a pay phone to call the police. Did the Coens change this so that the Ed Tom Bell character and the actor Tommy Lee Jones didn't look weak/afraid. I don't know, but it fits so much better with his character arc when he goes to see his brother and tells him why he retired.
Which brings me to the point that when he goes to see his brother that's the end of his story. You don't need anything more. His character arc ends there. This is the resolution scene. You don't need to see him talking with his wife about a dream he had. That last scene takes all the energy out of the movie because it really doesn't add anything to our knowledge of the character. He already said everything you need to know to his brother. At least combine these two scenes if you want to him talking about the symbolic dream he had and what it means to him.
The Coens didn't seem to have a problem changing the hotel sequence but they stayed true to the book which has the two scenes separate in it. A mistake I think.
After Llewelyn dies he talks to the sheriff, goes to the hotel room and then sees his brother. End! All the tension is sucked out ofter the llewelyn narrative ends. It's time to run for the end and get out. Ok. You want to stay true to the book and still kill the wife? Have the scene where she buries her mother. Comes home and Chigurh is waiting for her. They talk and then he flips the coin and says, "Call it". FADE OUT. End on the coin toss. That's a memorable image to go out on. Plus it gives just a smidgen of hope to a bleak movie. Although it's off screen we definitely don't need to see the aftermath of that scene or the scene where he is in a car accident. We already know he's impervious to pain. Again we loss tension and momentum seeing all those moments tacked on at the end. It's the only thing keeping this from being a perfect movie.
A last minor thing for me was the (Woody Harrelson) character dying of so soon. I wish he was around more so you could have invested more in his character before he was killed. All said it's still pretty damn good anyway. And better than most everything out there this year. I guess I just like to nitpick when it comes to the Coen's because I want them to be perfect every time out because they are one of the last great filmmakers we have left.
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