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Coen, Coen, Gong!
by Asa Butcher
2008-03-26 10:14:36
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No Country for Old Men
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
2008, Miramax

Did I like it? Yes. Did I love it? No. Should it have won Best Picture? Not sure. Is it classic Coen brothers? Yes. Would I watch it again? Yes. Will I buy it when it is released on DVD? Yes. Has it got the worst haircut since Sean Penn in Carlito's Way? Definitely, yes. Has No Country for Old Men been a hard film to review? Sort of…

When the nominations for the Oscars were announced I became a little confused over which film was which. No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were filmed in the same area, they are both joyfully described as neo-Westerns and are both inspired by novels, while Tommy Lee Jones starred in both In the Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men - plus, in my opinion, all three have rather sombre titles that don't inspire a visit to the cinema.

Never one to judge a film by its title - The Shawshank Redemption being one example - and determined to complete my geeky ambition to watch every Best Picture winner - six to go - I headed into Helsinki City Centre to finally use the first of three cinema tickets given as a Christmas present by my loving wife. I had no idea what to expect as I took my seat, although there was some anticipation after recently watching and thoroughly enjoying the Coen brothers' quirky 2003 film Intolerable Cruelty starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Set in rural Texas in 1980, No Country for Old Men tells the story of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who discovers the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong and decides to take a briefcase containing $2 million dollars. Psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is assigned to recover the money and begins a relentless pursuit of Moss, while Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) attempts to deal with the scale of the situation.

In the opening ten minutes we witness Chigurh brutally strangle a sheriff's deputy - a murder scene that reminded me of Paul Newman in Hitchcock's Torn Curtain - and then kill an innocent driver with his weapon of choice, a captive bolt pistol, which is used to stun cattle before they are slaughtered. I was about to write that this is the bloodiest Best Picture winner, but then I remembered the body counts in Braveheart, Gladiator and Titanic, while The Departed and Unforgiven contained a number of cold-blooded murders.

No Country for Old Men won four Academy Awards from eight nominations, with the award for Best Supporting Actor going to Javier Bardem making him the first Spanish actor to win an Oscar. His performance as Anton Chigurh will surely earn him a deserved place among Cinema's Top Villains and certainly gave me chills each time he appeared on screen… and it wasn't just his "extraordinary moptop haircut" of which Bardem said, "You don't have to act the haircut. The haircut acts by itself." Whether you agree with the analysis that Chigurh is the modern equivalent of the Terminator or Death from Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, he is a character not soon to be forgotten.

Josh Brolin stars as the main character in No Country for Old Men and he has certainly had a rollercoaster career since he first appeared in The Goonies as Mikey's older brother. It seems that Quentin Tarantino has the Midas touch for re-launching faded star's careers, first it was John Travolta and now, thanks to a role in Grindhouse and helping to film an audition tape, he has plucked Brolin from years of wandering in the Hollywood wilderness. The Coens were initially reluctant to cast Brolin but they should be relieved they finally did after his top-notch performance.

When Tommy Lee Jones narrates the opening scene I was taken aback because, as I mentioned earlier, I thought he was only in In the Valley of Elah. I can wax lyrical about TLJ all day and perhaps into the early evening; the man is simply an acting genius, a giant. It is a shame that none of three lead men in the movie ever share a frame, leaving us only to imagine what fireworks could have exploded with some dynamic personal interaction.

Before I move on from the cast, I must say how great it was to see Kelly Macdonald as Carla Jean Moss, Moss' wife. It only seems yesterday that she first appeared as the underage temptress in Danny Boyle's 1996 film Trainspotting and now she's in a Best Picture winner directed by the Coen brothers… fantastic! Honourable mentions must also be awarded to Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, Beth Grant as Carla Jean's mother who provides a few laughs, and Stephen Root as a mysterious man.

No Country for Old Men is the second film to share the Best Director Oscar between two directors, with the first going to Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise for West Side Story, but it is certainly the first time it has gone to brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen walked away with four Oscars between them, since they also won the Best Adapted Screenplay award for their work transforming Cormac McCarthy's novel to the screen.

I have always found the Coens' work to be hit and miss, with their brilliance highlighted in Blood Simple, Fargo and The Hudsucker Proxy, while they were slightly off-key with The Ladykillers, but the only problem I had with No Country for Old Men was the silence - yes, the silence was deafening and even gave me a headache. I have never been good with films of dominating silence and there is barely 15-minutes' worth of score here. I don't why silence gets on my nerves, but there you go!

No Country for Old Men is a beautifully-made film that certainly deserves attention and a second viewing, but I am still in two minds over its Academy Award win - perhaps when I have seen the other four nominated films then a decision will be made. On one other note though, the best moment about watching the film in the cinema was finally catching the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull… oh yeah!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-03-26 10:41:29
Good review. It motivates me to go see the the film soon.

Linda Lane2008-03-29 05:01:09
me too

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