no country for old men (2007)
Well? Are you ready for this? I'll get the verdict out of the way right here and now so that I don't keep you in suspense or anything. No Country for Old Men is the best movie of 2007 so far. See it. Now. K, now that we've accomplished that I can get down to actually discussing it, you can join me once you've run to a theater and seen the damn thing. This thing is the best directed, best acted, most focused and most provocative film I've seen in a theater this year. The Coen brothers have brought their a-game and no one appreciates it more than yours truly. To be honest, the Coens were never my favorite directors, not even close. Nothing about their style ever wowed me, nothing about their direction ever struck me as innovative. But they grab you in a way you're unaware of as you watch the film. After seeing Fargo for the first time I wasn't quite sure what it was about the film that appealed to me. Then I got a look at films like Miller's Crossing and Blood Simple and slowly the haunting quality of their films started to take over. No Country for Old Men not only enhances and continues that tradition, it defines it. It may be my favorite Coen brothers movies. It's intriguing in the same tonal sense that their debut, Blood Simple is. This film hits you first on a gut level, and then as it grows in your brain you begin to see the moral and philosophical implications of what you are being shown, you start to be changed and affected by what's there on the screen. This film is a triumph, and I won't soon forget it.
When you see this film, though, do me one favor. Refrain from speech for about 60 seconds after the credits start to roll. That's probably all it will take to collect yourself from the experience and let it sink in to the point where you realize you've seen a complete work. Too many people in my theater didn't take this short amount of time, instead blurting out "Huh? That's it?" and "What happened?". This is one of the most confident and complete works that's been released in recent years, no part of this film isn't perfectly blended with the rest of it, no aspect of theme or character has been left untouched. And in that signature Coen way I mentioned earlier, its haunting quality is that it doesn't stop coming at you, doesn't let up for a second so you can stop to examine what you see, it drills its way right to your hind-brain and settles there. Like the film's villain, Anton Chigurh, you can feel this film right over your shoulder the entire time. You can even feel it after you've left the theater. What fascinates right off the bat from this bloody tale is that the Coens present two loosely related tales to us and each are perfectly pitched. One is the tale of Tommy Lee Jones as an aging sheriff. He gives to us the point of view of the "old men" to whom the title refers, and it is his framing of the tale that elevate what could have been such a simple cat and mouse game. Of course, the entire last twenty minutes elevate it even higher, but I won't get into that. The themes the film comes to grip with are too numerous to name and to instinctive to even put properly into words. At the very least, a summation is not possible, but perhaps examples that illustrate will be. The Jones character provides us with pensive, reflective scenes, (a man of action he is most definitely not) while the scenes with Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem (two men of action) give us the explosive punch that this violent film has. Jones gets us thinking about what a long life can mean, about mortality, what it is to fade away, what it is to be able to remember such a long amount of time. The Brolin and Bardem gets us thinking in terms of fragility, what a short life can mean and what it is to vanish in an instant. For men, there is an end, but will that end to a life ever really provide the closure we need for our own private tales? What if it ends too soon or too late, or at the most unexpected time? For everything else, society, this wide-open landscape, there is seemingly no end. Nothing seems to lead to anything, but rather keeps on sweeping by. There is an exchange between Bardem's character and a gas station clerk early in the film that states in a small way all we need to know. Chirgurh flips a coin and asks the clerk to "call it". "You know what the date is on this coin?", he asks "1958. It's been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it's here. And it's either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it"
Traveling twenty-two years, but to what end? Is this its end? Who knows, it all depends on chance. What we quickly gather from the exchange is simple; the coin will go on, but this man may not. And from then on we begin to gather, and feel out our way through what the film has to offer us. The Coen's unique quality is felt in every frame, there's something sinister, yet calming, about those wide-open spaces in the unforgiving desert. The film works well as a modern-day western, and gives us just enough of a sense of time to the point where we are not overwhelmed. This film is set in 1980, but that isn't what defines it, what defines the film is its sense of place, the era doesn't really even matter.As I kick the movie around in my head, I continually come back the quietly affirming ending, an ending that allows all the mysteries about life and mortality to sink way down deep. The Bardem and Brolin scenes keep us pinned to our seats in the theater, but its the words of Tommy Lee Jones that echo in our heads when we leave. From the point of view of a young man, let's say a 21 year old college student, the prospect of being in Jones' shoes is a bit frightening. On the one hand, he has survived and led a long and fulfilling life, he has a lot to be proud of. But the idea of being able to feel your end coming, being able to feel your youth and energy slowly leave you, is a strange and confusing one. I don't know what it's like to age, more or less, I don't know what it's like to be able to remember so much and to get my head around liviing for such a long amount of time. The film raises so many questions if it's allowed to, it's a pensive film, and one my thoughts will dwell on for a long time to come. As far as the direction, cinematography, writing, acting and editing go, this thing is like a text book, just a damn fine example of filmmaking. It didn't pack the extra punch to move it to 10 territory, but sometimes films aren't meant to even go there. This one does everything it ever needed to all the way. I doubt I'll be forgetting it anytime soon, it's a rare thing in today's film that I see something that will undoubtedly stand the test of time, but this is one. I guarantee if film is still being studied 50 years from now, a college kid like me will be sitting down to study it. And I'll be 71. And I'll really know how it feels. This film is haunting me already.
So yeah, just see the damn thing, it's the best ticket this year, and the best overall experience. It reminds me a lot of Cronenberg's A History of Violence from 2005, extremely enjoyable for all of its surface elements, but when we look deeper, we uncover a wealth of provocative and interesting elements under the surface. It's got me excited to see where the Coens go from here. Please, nothing more in the vein of The Ladykillers and I'll be psyched, their golden age may be upon us, let's wait and see. 2007 is winding down, and I still have plenty more to see. I'm looking forward to it, and after seeing this I'm more optimistic than ever. Here's to you Joel and Ethan Coen, you give us all something to aspire to, job well done.