Saturday, March 13, 2010

No Country For Old Men

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Whatever you think of the Coen Brother's reach for deeper meaning at the end of their dark meditation on chance, fate, death, and the dangers of simple goodness in the face of a chaotic world (for my money, they hit more than they miss here), there's no way to deny that this is one of the better-designed and executed thrillers of the last decade. From the moment Josh Brolin's good old boy Lewellyn Moss swims frantically away from a murderous Rottweiler, the tension rarely ratchets down until it rather shockingly implodes in a meaningless offscreen "climax" -- a structural irregularity the movie shares with Cormac McCarthy's source novel. Perhaps it is the influence upon the Brothers Coen of McCarthy, Authorlegendarious Americanus, but No Country is shockingly pared down and rough, and a marked tonal departure from the duo's efforts, both previous and subsequent. Aside from a few trademark funny rubes, this is the least arch Coen Brothers movie since Blood Simple, their debut, and the straightforwardness probably helps explain the shower of awards that came their way. I like me some straight-up Coen, but the filtered variety is savory, too. More adaptations, please, Joel and Ethan.

Of course it is Moss' eventual pursuer, Anton Chigurh, who has entered the cultural lexicon. Chigurh, whose name suggests some kind of Lovecraftian demon, is both a hired gun and death personified, a man who kills not just because it is profitable or enjoyable, but because he seems to feel that murder is simply the right thing to do. A pageboy bob framing his head like death's hood, Chigurh kills impassively, but according to his own strict moral code. Flipping a coin, he lets the universe decide if you live or if you die. (Unless, that is, he's already decided that you have to die. Then he just shotguns you before saying "howdy.") He's also creative; he picks up a cattle stunner with a connoisseur's interest, as if to say, "Huh, never killed anybody THIS way before." Death will get you, and you can't stop what's coming, but maybe death will get you in an interesting way.

Tommy Lee Jones, as a world weary sheriff too honest to deny that he's too afraid to take on what men like Chigurh represent, is near a career peak here, but I think that the real standout is Josh Brolin, who makes his welder/Vietnam vet/resourceful everyman an indelible doomed hero, a tough guy who just isn't quite tough enough in a world where greed can draw you in, but an act of kindness can cause your ruin.


Dawn Summers said...

Wait, THIS is Coen Brothers?? I totally thought I hated everything they did! I liked No Country for Old Men! Hmm...maybe I like spinach too?

madbrooklyn said...

No silly rabbit, don't you know it's Tim Burton!

; )

I just can't fathom how someone could hate everything the Coen Brothers have done.

And yes, spinach is good and you should like it too.

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