Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Country for Old Men

I'm a little late in posting this, but last week my wife and I saw Joel and Ethan Coen's screen adaptation of No Country for Old Men, and the film is definitely an experience worth a few words.

I gotta confess that I haven't read the book. Sometimes that's a good thing when coming into a novel-to-film adaptation, because you don't have any preconceptions of how the characters are supposed to look or which way the plot is supposed to go. Still, everything I've read suggests that this is a pretty faithful adaptation. I really wouldn't know, though - but I'd like to read the book now that I've seen the film.

What I do know is that this film is bleak. Not really in a bad way, but you need to be expecting it. I really wasn't, for some reason, and it was pretty obvious that the crowd of apparent retirees and Tommy Lee Jones fans in the theater with my wife and I weren't either. (We saw it on a weekday; I was on vacation, but most of the people in there with us obviously had every day off.) I overheard lots of people afterwards who clearly missed the entire point of the film and were instead fixated on little plot points that had really nothing to do with anything. I understand why the Coen brothers chose to make this film, because it's similar to many of their own original works where the plot, as complex as it is, is completely secondary to the characters and theme.

The bottom line is a lot of stuff happens in this film, almost all of it bad, and none of it happens for any reason other than to make a point.

Honestly, this is not a good date movie.

You might think this is a departure for the Coens, but it's really a return to form. If you've seen their first feature Blood Simple, then you know what I mean. No Country for Old Men is very similar in a lot of ways - lots of suspense, lots of violence, lots of dark visuals, a morality lesson hanging over everything - but with a much less conventional thriller ending. One other difference between the two films is that Blood Simple's characters were all essentially rational people on opposite sides of the same morality play, whereas No Country for Old Men sports a much darker take on human nature. Here, there exist irrational, psychopathic criminals that cannot be understood, and consequently cannot be stopped.

I think the Coens are probably the greatest filmmakers working today. I don't think they'll be fully appreciated until many years from now, probably not until after they're gone. Blood Simple holds up more than 20 years after its release for its teeth-gritting suspense - I really don't think anyone has done suspense better than the Coens since Hitchcock. Part of their genius is that their suspense scenes are so unpredictable - some end quickly and in surprising ways, others are long and drawn out to an uncomfortable degree. One of the things a film professor I had said about them is that they're among the few filmmakers who understand that human beings are hard to kill. In a Coen brothers film, killing somebody is an ordeal; it takes a long time, it's messy, and it's physically exhausting. That makes the few "easy" kills in their films that much more unexpected.

No Country for Old Men
features both kinds of scenes. It's really vintage Coens. It's not a very fun movie, but then not all of their films are. It's a statement.

Visit the official web site if you need a synopsis or more visual prodding to get you to the theater.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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