“No Country For Old Men” is a 2007 film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. The brothers are also responsible for a slew of other fantastic features including, but not limited to ; “Fargo”, “Burn After Reading”, and “Raising Arizona”. All of their movies have some key elements in common. They are usually set in a desolate environment. They are character driven films. They consistently boast a stellar cast who can aptly reflect the complexity and depth demanded by their characters. And, most importantly, they tend to be staggeringly original, groundbreaking works of art that defy convention and spew creativity in all aspects of storytelling. This movie stands out among them all as their shining masterpiece.
I’ve seen this film a few times. Like most great films, it hasn’t depreciated in value with time. It’s intensely interesting to watch these magnetic characters voyage through an unpredictable plot. Javier Bardem’s performance as Anton Chigurh was indeed worthy of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Not that I really care about what the Academy thinks, but it’s nice that the powers that be recognized this film for what it was : Best Picture and Best Director(s). Josh Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, a character who takes us through one of the great cinematic misdirects of all time. In fact, this whole movie is one big misdirect. It’s all about breaking convention at every turn. The movie lulls you into the familiar ebb and flow of a traditional Hollywood plot. The Coen Brothers have managed to distract the audience using all the classical components of an action/thriller. As they exercise these clichés, they simultaneously turn every convention in the playbook on its head. And they do it right under our collective noses. This is what makes it all so cleverly genius.
I want to you to think about something for a moment. When was the last time you saw a wide-release film where you emotionally invest in the main character, following them on an adventure for just under two hours, only to have them end up getting violently killed in the end? You will probably think of a few, but these are rare occurrences. Now, let’s take it one more step, and ask : When the last time this main character died OFFSCREEN ? No slow-motion, blaze of glory, hail of gunfire kind of martyrdom here. We don’t get melodramatic music pulling at our heartstrings, we simply get no scene whatsoever. Perhaps, you didn’t even realize how strange this omission was until just now. Or maybe you did notice, and are incredibly unimpressed by the magic trick. If the latter is the case, just stop reading this review right now and go write a movie script. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of many cinematic firsts. To have a movie that can function as a wildly entertaining thrill ride, while still including so many envelope-pushing plot twists, is a triumph of filmmaking.
The last half hour of the film is outrageously fantastic. It’s impact was made possible mainly because it was set up perfectly by the first 3/4 of the film. It’s filled with more examples of these “whaaaaat just happened??” kinds of moments. Anton’s almost death fake-out scene immediately comes to mind. The audience is led to believe they will finally get their fix of overdue poetic justice when Anton gets in a car crash, only to have him prod onwards, relatively unscathed. Now we are forced to digest the fact that all of his maniacal bad deeds will go entirely unpunished. No karma. No coming full circle. No good guys. No bad guys. It’s all a brilliant illusion where, just like real life, everything is more complicated than we’d like it to be. Anton is actually one of only two main characters who survive to the end. The other being Ed Tom Bell, who is played by Tommy Lee Jones. Which brings us to Ed’s closing monologue. I dare you to sit through the whole scene posted below.
Yes, it’s only two and a half minutes. But, it’s meant to be the longest two and a half minutes of your life. Maybe I’m just a dullard, who doesn’t grasp the deeper themes this speech might be touching on. But, I honestly don’t think I am. This is the Coen’s final chess move against American audiences who helped put three Transformers movies at the top of the box office. The movie could have easily been over one scene earlier. Instead, they serve the audience one of the most dry, anti-climactic endings in movie history. At my theater, it was met with a sea of murmuring people struggling to comprehend what the hell just happened to them. It was amazing!!! I would love to watch a highlight reel of audience reactions around the world as the screen goes to black and the credits roll. Two tickets for me and my wife to attend NCFOM : $18.50. Milling out of the theater while eavesdropping on befuddled masses clamoring for a familiar ending with some kind of closure : Priceless.
So just to recap :
– The main character dies(offscreen) with a half hour left in the movie, and is pretty much a scumbag anyway.
– The most likeable characters all get killed horribly(most notably poor Carla Jean).
– The “Bad Guy” Aton(who is much more just crazy than pure evil), makes it all the way to the end, and is just as likeable as our greedy, selfish protagonist.
– The final scene is of a tired old man rambling about some dream that seems, at best, loosely connected to everything that just transpired.
I think this movie is an emphatic reaction to the static, predictable, regurgitated state of affairs in Hollywood. And the blame doesn’t only lie with the studios, as they are really just catering to the demands of the public. So, NCFOM is just as much a pointed reaction to general audiences, as it is the corporate institutions that peddle the drivel. Joel and Ethan responded by composing the cinematic equivalent of a sophisticated orchestral movement infused with the spirit of punk rock and Dadaism. The only thing more quintessentially badass than giving the finger to millions of people, is to garner awards and receive their adoration while you are doing so.
Overall Rating : 9.8/10