The Coens return to their darker, earlier days and Brolin and Bardem deliver terrific performances.
First, let me preface this review by telling you that I am a huge fan of the Coen Brothers. I’ve liked all of their movies for one reason or another. Sure, I admit there are weaker entries (Ladykillers, The Man Who Wasn’t There) but I liked those as well and they still kept me entertained. The Coens always do something different and, even when they are a little off their game, their movies are still leagues beyond almost everything else out there. In an age of remakes, rehashes, video game movies and CG-filled garbage, the Coens are true originals. They create their own filmatic world and no one (and I repeat, NO ONE) crafts more memorable characters. Like fine wines, their movies improve with age - with each viewing. For proof, watch Big Lebowski, Hudsucker Proxy or Raising Arizona again and tell me you don’t notice something you didn’t notice before – something that makes you enjoy the movie just a tad bit more.
No Country For Old Men is the least Coen-y Coen Brothers movie since Blood Simple. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, No Country is a detailed, methodically restrained exploration of McCarthy’s words.
Josh Brolin is Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam vet who stumbles upon the carnage of a drug deal gone bad while out hunting. There he finds a briefcase filled with $2 million in cash and decides against his better judgment that it might be his one chance at a better life. He knows people will come for the money, but he never expected a force like Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Chigurh is a killing machine - completely unstoppable, driven by his own moral code and indifferent to the temptations of money and women. By the time Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) realizes what’s happening, he knows it’s too late for Moss. Still, he tries his best to help him and his uninvolved wife, Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald).
No Country For Old Men doesn’t have as many of the trademark Coen Brothers touches as fans might be expecting. There aren’t really any quirky characters, the pace is intentionally moderate. It’s also far more straightforward then their movies tend to be. While I am only partway through the McCarthy novel, I can say that, so far, the Coen’s translation is quite faithful.
What really raises the bar for No Country is the performances. The cast is strong across the board – Bardem, Brolin and even Jones deliver Oscar-worthy performances. Even smaller roles from Macdonald (whose southern twang is spot-on, especially for a Scott) and Woody Harrelson are excellent.
Most of the talk around No Country has been centered on Bardem – who is great and who I will get to in a moment – but the performance that caught me off guard was by Brolin. His work here is the best of his career thus far; the breakout performance he’s been promising for so many years. With smaller roles in American Gangster and Valley of Elah, 2007 is truly Brolin’s year.
A great performance from Javier Bardem is expected at this point. Still, he’s never player a character like Chigurh and neither has anyone else. Truly one of the coldest homicidal characters this side of Hannibal Lector, Bardem is straight up scary as Chigurh. He has complete command of the part and is well-deserving of the accolades he is receiving.
The violence of No Country is quick, realistic and intense. Chigurh is not about stylistic brutality or witty bad guy lines. He’s about doing his job as efficiently as possible. Anyone who gets in his way or happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time will be eliminated.
Like all Coen projects, No Country is visually arresting. For a dry, largely colorless town in Texas in the 80’s, the Coens and regular DP Roger Deakins create a memorably detailed world that completely draws viewers into this world, like it or not.
To nitpick a bit, there are certainly some flaws in No Country. Without revealing anything, the ending could be considered a bit of a letdown depending on your perspective. Certain crucial moments are carried out off screen, which left some viewers I spoke with feeling a little cheated. I didn’t mind so much and feel a second viewing might reveal those intentions more clearly, like so many nuances of their other films.
Some have called this film a comeback for the Coens, but they never went anywhere. Their work has been primarily focused on slapstick comedies for a few years and those just aren’t the kind of movies that generally draw praise, fair or not.
For the Coens, No Country For Old Men represents a departure of sorts. They are not working off their own material and, with a few exceptions; it doesn’t feature any of their regular players. All the same, their work is as sharp and solid as ever. It’s a dry movie, but never boring. Even as slow-paced as the narrative often is - particularly involving the monologues from Jones - I always found myself very involved in the story. It’s not your typical suspense thriller, but yet still remains intensly engaging a suspenseful. The Coens remain perfect in my book.
What's On the Disc?
The DVD for No Country arrives just weeks after the flick took home Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Bardem) and Adapted Screenplay. Sadly, like most Coen releases, this edition doesn't offer a whole lot of extras or insight into the production but, considering the DVD was probably in its final stages long before the dust from all the accolades had cleared, I wouldn't be surprised to see a more expansive 2-disc edition down the line.
A 25-minute "Making Of" documentary is a standard piece that should nevertheless hold interest for Coen fans. It starts with the McCarthy novel and the Coens' first thoughts of translating it into film. There are interviews with all of the cast and the Coens themselves as well as behind-the-scenes shots of the filming and on-set interviews. It's a little more in-depth than the standard EPK stuff - all in all, a decent little watch.
Next is an eight-minute doc ca