Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Coen Bros. return to form with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Aw, hells bells. They even shot the dog!NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a beautifully crafted, darkly comic thriller adapted by the Coen Brothers from an acerbic novel by Cormac McCarthy. A hick Texan called Llewelyn Moss stumbles on the aftermath of a drug deal gone horribly wrong and in a moment of weakness abandons a dying Mexican and absconds with a suitcase full of money. Problem is, a psychopathic murderer called Anton Chigurh is tracking the money and Moss, via a transponder stuck in the briefcase. Meanwhile, a decent old-fashioned copper, Ed Tom Bell, is trying to reach out to Moss via his wife Carla Jean. So the film is essentially about two men - a murderer and a thief - stalking each other through motels in small towns - and the impact of this gruesome hunt on a mild-mannered Sherriff. The violence is graphically depicted as is its aftermath. We feel every bullet wound and see every attempt to repair the human body. Watching blood ooze from Moss' body, or Chigurh jabbing lidocaine into his punctured leg - the impact on the audience is visceral. The tension is constant and intense. I can't remember a recent thriller where so much attention was paid to the shadows cast by madmen hiding behind doors. But what makes this such a unique film is the fact that the dialogue is so darkly funny. It's really impressive the way in which Cormac McCarhy and the Coen Brothers manage to bring out the quirkiness of Texan idiom without under-mining the general air of menace. Moreover, despite the fact that a lot of the characters speak and dress like the kind of stereotypes mocked in the Coen Bros.' O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, they are fully developed, magnetic characters. Tommy Lee Jones, who has so often played these Texan law officer parts, is particuarly sympathetic as the world-weary Sherriff, who simply cannot comprehend modern, random violence and prefers not to carry a gun. In an era of CSI, it's also refreshing to see an old-fashioned copper check out a scene and use good old-fashioned logic to work out what went wrong. Josh Brolin is a revelation as Llewelyn Moss. He's far more than just a dumb hick who got lucky - he's loyal, honest (after a fashion), resourceful and ballsy. Faced with a psychopath, he doesn't back down. He's a tremendously likeable character. However, I suspect the character that will become an icon is Javier Bardem's ultimate bad-ass, Anton Chigurh, with his laughable bowl-hair-cut; sinister, deadpan use of idiom; and quirky method of despatching locks and people alike.

All three actors are worthy of Best (Supporting) Actor nods. Indeed, it's a measure of how finely balanced this movie is that the movie seems to belong to all three actors equally. In genuinely supporting roles, Kelly Macdonald puts on a fine Texan ccent as Carla Moss and Woody Harrelson has a funny turn as a bounty hunter. Garret Dillahunt is also hysterically funny as the Sherriff's sidekick. In the end, though, it's the talent behind the camera that makes NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN the masterpiece that it is: in particular, Roger Deakins' attention to the framing and lighting of every shot and the Coen Bros. perfect marriage to the source material.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN could knock off every film on my Best of 2007 list bar 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS. Roger Deakins would certainly make the Best DP list and the Coen Bros. would make the Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director lists. This is a tremendous return to form for film-makers who stunned us with FARGO but slipped into mediocrity, ill-judgement and self-parody with INTOLERABLE CRUELTY and THE LADYKILLERS. And to those critics who hold back a little - and criticise the denouement of this film - I simply can't understand what they object to.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN played Cannes, Toronto and Vienna 2007 and was released in the USA in November 2007. It opens in the UK on January 18th in Belgium, France and Australia on January 23rd and in Argentina on January 31st. It opens in Brazil, Russia, Estonia, Mexico, Iceland, Portugal, Slovakia, Norway and Sweden in February 2008. It opens in Greece, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Turkey, Singapore, Japan and Italy in March and in Germany on April 10th.


  1. I loved this. I know the ending is going to leave some people cold, but I thought it was very apt. Javier Bardem is brilliant as Chigurh but Tommy Lee Jones is great as the sheriff. It's strange to see him so weary and melancholic. You're right about it being funny as well: plenty of people, including myself, laughed heartily during some parts.

  2. Ali, please can you explain to me what people are complaining about regarding the ending. I've read so many reviews where they complain about it, because they don't want to spoil it, they are really non-specific. I wasn't being facetious in my review - I genuinely don't understand what they don't like.


    Is it the fact that it just cuts off? Is it the fact that we don't see Moss' death (I thought this was really cool - sensitively handled - avoiding showing us the one murder we would care about). Is it that the wife holds out? I really just don't understand!


    From what I've read, people are just surprised by the non-conventional ending. The "hero" is killed off-screen, not even by the fearsome killer that's been stalking him. Is Carla Jean killed by Chigurh? I think so, because he checks his shoes as he leaves the house. I think because it's not a typical climax, it's thrown some people off. If you're someone who likes definitive answers and an unambiguous ending, then No Country will dissappoint, but then again that's their loss.



    My goodness, is that all? I don't think there is any ambiguity about whether Carla died. Such a man as Chigurh lives by his weird dogma - and as you say, he checks his shoes for blood.

    I actually think it is a strength of the movie that we don't see the Moss' deaths. It's like McCarthy is at once playing with the audience but also respecting the fact that, as much violence as we've already seen, maybe we don't want to see the vicious death of two people we've grown fond of.

    Ah well, different strokes I suppose.


    The comic strip is funny but I think it misses the point. This is an unconventional thriller all ways up. The hick cops are actually decent and don't like guns; the idiot bad guy is actually quite smart, MacGuiver style; the bad guy is truly bad but the author/film-maker don't resort to exploitation and revel in the gore of him killing the protagonists....

  6. People who can't grasp the ending don't see the point of the story. I found it genius the way it cuts off and how they handle it. Would a man who has a reputation like Chigurh actually not get away with it in the end? It's a tale of greed and violence so the ending is the only way it can possibly end. Not often do you see the law give up as Tommy Lee does and not often do you see your hero slain, let alone Not see your hero slain. Truly brilliant filmmaking that strikes colder with such an intense non visceral ending.

    You'd be surprised by the amount of people who didn't get the ending over this side of the pond. Idiots.

  7. Paul - you sum it up really well. To tack on some happy ending where evil is quoshed and all the ends tie up would betray the generally nihilistic feel of the movie.


    Imagine, if you will, that you're making an action thriller with everything going for it. Wonderful production values. Believable characters played by excellent actors. Cinematography to die for. A dry script littered with darkly comic witticisms. An engaging - engrossing - sometimes thrilling plot. A movie filled with drama and violence and intricacies that weave slowly around building up to an inevitable climax - an explosion where all the plot streams mesh into one.

    But you've got two problems. Firstly, you're so far stuck up your own arse that you can't bear the thought of it "just" being an action thriller. You want it to be more. You want it to make some sort of deeper statement. To break the mold. To do something different from all the other action films - from all the other dramas. And secondly, you can't think of a way of doing that.

    All the possible endings you can think of seem played out. You both lack the imagination to think up a new one - and lack the humility to rise above your pompous self-aggrandising aspirations for the film. As beautiful as it looks, as well played as it is - it's still got all the 2-D hallmarks (and characters) of a comic book with cool-assed hard-bitten baddies, and ambiguous but deep-down nice goodies. So what do you do?

    The answer is, you make "No Country for Old Men" - announced by Bina007 as a return to form for the Cohen Brothers - now exposed and denounced by me as one of the most flagrant wasted opportunities in cinema.

    Rarely have I seen an action-thriller better shot, better acted, better set up than this one. The long running time is no impediment, the film draws you in and slowly builds you up in anticipation... in anticipation of a climax that doesn't happen. Of an ending that isn't.

    It's not that the ending is unbelievable or non-sequitor. It just isn't there. The plot, like most people you meet in the film, dies inconsequentially with 15 minutes to go, and meanders into the middle of nowhere before abruptly cutting to credits.

    And it's not like I didn't get it either. It's not like I didn't understand what it was trying to "say" - the message it was trying to get across. But that message was so insultingly pre-school - the way it was delivered so utterly pseudo-intellectual - and the context that might have justified it so completely lacking - that it was lost on the audience.

    No Country for Old Men could have been one of the best movies of the year. In fact, it could have been a genre re-defining epic. But its producers were so intent on breaking through the genre - so misguided in their desperation to rewrite the manual - that they massacred what might otherwise have been the best thriller of the decade. A beautiful baby was thrown out here - and the bathwater wasn't even dirty.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't see this film. I mean, this is no Eastern Promises - it's more a sad botch than a deliberate, cheap bottle. Yes - it'll probably disappoint you in the end - but 4/5 of the movie is actually well worth seeing. There is a lot of commend this film - it has its merits.

    But shame on the Cohen Bros for their sneering arrogance and selfish pride. For while I'm not a big fan of formula, I at least have the sense to recognise that it's established for a reason.


  9. just saw no country for old men; it's unassumingly unconventional and yet (thankfully) never over the top. the Coen brothers deserve their oscars, well done indeed.

  10. Patrick, I'm glad you liked it, and also feel NO COUNTRY was a worthy winner. Still, it was a shame not to see 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS competing with it....

  11. Thank you Maximus for your comments. I couldn't agree more. What a disappointment this movie was. It was distasteful and it made me fall asleep twice.