typing is not activism….

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The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men: a movie to die in

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On the way to a preview of the new Coen Brothers’ film, No Country for Old Men, I actually heard from somebody that it is being widely praised as their best film to date. My reaction was mixed.

1. Holy crap, could any movie actually be that good?

2. What a f#$king stupid term of reference.

To announce that the Coen Brothers have made their best film is like saying that you only need to see one Wes Anderson film, or that if you’ve seen Boogie Nights, you should skip Magnolia. If you’ve heard It Takes a Nation of Millions… you’ll only get confused by Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. Salma Hayek is only really worth seeing in Frida. Bill Hicks only did one truly awesome night of stand-up. Bjork’s best album is…. Do you get me?

To say that No Country for Old Men is possibly the best movie that the Coens have made is to suggest, insinuate – that Raising Arizona, Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There were somehow practice for a main event and can now somehow be discarded from The Library of Awesomeness. Speaking of The Library of Awesomeness, look under ‘B’ for Barton Fink because that can go too, and don’t forget O Brother, Where Art Thou?, although that may be under ‘O’ – as in ‘obviously The Coen Brothers Best Film is a f%$king stupid subject for the making of comparisons’.

If you’re concerned about the plot, look in Wikipedia because I’m not going to reach into your future and diminish its juiciness. Suffice to say that “written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen” is a far better guarantee of timeless quality than “Quentin Tarantino presents”. If you don’t believe me, watch Hostel again.

One of the Coen trademarks evident in No Country for Old Men is the navigation of that space where circumstantial coincidences create the possibility for retribution and brutal violence – so much so that there is an almost ethereality to the whole thing.

Improbability becomes inevitability, while certainty becomes jarring disorientation. It seems to me that the Coens consistently work with stories that far too many directors would twist into bombastic explodaganzas, string-heavy tragedies, or preachy morality plays. It is their deliciously dark and understated humour which tempers the choices they make, and the choices they make provide beautifully effective vehicles for their dark humour.

Perhaps one of the most distinct ways in which the Coens inject themselves into the films that they make is to protect the stories from which they arise. Thrir films project subtle meanings and the asymmetries of realistic life – two essential ingredients which almost all mainstream Western filmmakers filtrate as if removing blemishes – even, perhaps especially, into confounding scenarios that would otherwise teeter on the brink of implausibility.

Perfect casting, great dialogue, compelling stories, deeply flawed characters, lethal conflict, fantastic soundscapes – these are certainly welcome elements in any film; the Coens not only bring all of these elements to this movie, but unite them in a seamless whole which delights, disturbs, shocks, bewilders and, importantly, asks more questions than it answers.

There is no room for tokenistic emotional response. The character portrayed Javier Bardem – absolutely magnetic as the justice-dispensing/chance-enforcing assassin from his first moment on screen – could be drawn from some horrible fairytale told by mafiosi to scare their children. But he is no caricature. Wise, sinister, cold, other-worldly, insane, brutal, relentless, but not typical. It’s impossible to imagine No Country being what it is without Bardem. He plays the nemesis to Josh Brolin’s skilfully crafted protagonist. While Brolin may in fact be his own worst enemy, as indeed may we all, this would be one of those questions best left to film critics (clamouring to simultaneously exude spoilers, text-bytes, and sociology dissertations). Tommy Lee Jones is an absolute pleasure – however uncomfortable – and the inclusion of Woody Harrelson is just showing off although, again, it’s perfect casting.

Either way you look at it, the result is timeless storytelling rather than stilted performance. You know the kind. Like when you’re just waiting for Tom Cruise to turn away from Jack Nicholson and shriek “how awesome was I just then? Wasn’t I awesome? Wow. I am such an awesome actor.” That doesn’t happen. Even in the dusty, harsh, dirty reality of a feverish hermit’s cabin, the Coens and their cast pull you far away from your seat, transported to that special place where the danger and relief are real, even though the money and guns (probably) aren’t.

No Country for Old Men is literally breathtaking storytelling at its best. To miss it would be a shame; to dismiss it, a sin. In 2007, the Coen Brothers, this film, and its exceptionally stunning conclusion are among the few remaining good reasons to not nuke America.

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Coming to Australia soon, possibly as early as Boxing Day.

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Written by typingisnotactivism

December 18, 2007 at 12:44 am

One Response

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  1. ed sez WARNING WARNING –> SPOILER OF SORTS FOLLOWS

    movierfnatic sez “I think once you get over who directed the movie and wake up to see what the movie for what it is, you will see that it is a not a great movie at all. My main problem with the movie is that it does not contain a substantial conclusion. After watching the entire movie, I felt robbed and cheated. The end is just a bunch of metaphorical bs and the entire plot just dissolves. You will not get any closure from the end. Maybe I am just mad at a movie with a plot that has some pyscho running around the desert killing everyone he comes in contact with no interference and he is the one who walks away at the end. Lame movie”

    t.i.n.a. : I think once you get over your Hollywood-induced expectations of closure and your belief that there is some kind of universal morality which neatly coincides with your limiting expectations then you’ll not only better appreciate a stunning film like this, but the very stuff of life itself. Seriously. You’re coming at life with the perspective of someone who still lives with their parents and thinks that The Brady Bunch is actually a documentary series. Did you have a similar problem with Children of Men? A similar problem with Being John Malkovich? No such problem with Bambi? Lame comment.

    Although, hang on… “Maybe I am just mad at a movie with a plot that has some pyscho running around the desert killing everyone he comes in contact with no interference and he is the one who walks away at the end.” —> THAT’S YOUR PRESIDENT, ISN’T IT? Twat.

    movierfanatic

    January 10, 2008 at 3:59 pm


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