Sunday, November 25, 2007

'No Country for Old Men'

Your reaction to the Coen brothers’ latest movie, “No Country for Old Men,” will probably depend on what type of movie watcher you are.

If you’re the type that watches primarily for aesthetic reasons, you’ll absolutely love this film. The Coens have delivered a work that’s beautifully done in all the major categories: acting, directing, writing, and cinematography. Most critics fall into this first group, of course, which is why “No Country” has received such high praise; they watch so, so many movies, anything that’s made this well will always strike a chord, no matter if it’s missing little things like resolution or satisfactory conclusion (that actually helps get good reviews—the weirder the better, typically).

See, those last two are what your average moviegoer wants, and they’ll find none of it in “No Country for Old Men.” It’s impossible to tell why without spoiling the story, but I’ll just say that this movie does an exceedingly good job of building tension to an almost unbearable level, and then that tension is released off screen. It’s a complete letdown that leaves the remainder of Act 3 a complete wandering mess.

As a viewer, I’m somewhere between the above two categories. For the first two-thirds of this movie, I was in awe of how well it was done and excited to be seeing another good Western this fall (albeit a modern version) where even the sounds of footfalls in the dirt feel significant. Every major character is portrayed with quiet, flawless precision by a roster of actors that could legitimately earn multiple Oscar nods: Tommy Lee Jones has never looked more weatherworn than he does here as a small-town Texas sheriff; Josh Brolin (you remember him, the older brother from “The Goonies”?) is pitch-perfect as a Vietnam vet taking a desperate shot at the brass ring when a drug deal goes bad and leaves $2 million up for grabs; Javier Bardem (pictured above) is magnetic and terrifying as the mercenary hired to hunt down Brolin; and Woody Harrelson saunters onscreen for a casually cool cameo not to be missed.

But all this pristinely captured sound and fury ends up signifying nothing. I get what the Coens are trying to say—that this is a brutal, violent world that beats you down the older you get, and that brutal violence can come from anywhere, especially when you’re not looking for it. That message isn’t strong enough, though, to make up for an ending so unsatisfying it probably makes David Chase jealous.

Grade: B-

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