Apologies for the hiccup in posting – a sick girlfriend will do that to a schedule. To get back into the swing of things, and in advance of the Oscars tonight, here are my thoughts on No Country For Old Men, which I think will win the best directing Oscars for the Coen brothers but not the best film, which will go to There Will Be Blood.
The first adaptation by the Coen brothers, this film grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shakes you until you drop. This happens from the start – Javier Bardem is arrested by the local sheriff, who takes him back to his office. As he phones his boss, we see Bardem slip his cuffed hands under his legs and use them to quietly and calmly throttle the sheriff to death, before washing his hands in the station sink. In the act, his eyes seem to be elsewhere, as if he isn’t there – a great performance of dead-eyed evil but I’m not sure if it’s the stuff of Oscars (but what do I know? As much as I enjoy watching Alan Arkin, I still can’t believe he got an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine).
We see Josh Brolin out hunting in Texas desert; he shoots a deer but only wounds it. He follows it to kill it, only to discover the remains of a drug deal gone wrong, with nearly everyone dead. He finds the money and takes it; meanwhile, Bardem has been given the job of retrieving the money. Tommy Lee Jones is an older sheriff (who narrates the opening sequence of the film) who is investigating the deaths that seem to follow in Bardem’s wake. He’s see a lot in his life but wishes he hadn’t, including Bardem’s use of a human animal killer to murder people. Meanwhile, Brolin makes a decision to help someone that sets events in motion for the rest of the movie.
The film is a stunning piece of cinema, especially as it originates from a book by Cormac MacCarthy. There are some amazing near-silent set pieces of pure nerve-jangling suspense and thrills, told in such a cinematic style – obviously, the Coen film that never was of the prisoner of war in enemy territory that is told with almost no dialogue stuck with them more than they said. It’s incredibly daring and exceptional storytelling that never loses sense of the narrative or the characters. All the actors pull off excellent work, with Jones’ craggy face showing the heart of the idea behind the title, but the plaudits are all with the Coen brothers and Roger Deakins’ cinematography. I believe they will be worthy winners of Academy Awards tonight, well deserved after excellent bodies of work.
The only aspect that stops this film being completely perfect is the ending – it feels too much like an ending in a book rather than a film. I’m not asking for a neat resolution to the film, with characters having definable arcs – the problem is that we don’t witness a pivotal point in the story (we are shown the aftermath), which the story has been leading up to, and then we finish the film with a character having a chat with somebody we haven’t seen in the rest of the film. It seems rather odd, falling away from the rest of the film. However, even this deliberately ambiguous end doesn’t stop the (extremely violent) movie from being a superb piece of cinema.