Nov 16, 2007

No Country for Old Men

I went in expecting a masterpiece and I went out, as my friend Lisa says, trying to convince myself that I had liked it more than I did.
It seems to me that this movie is another, less successful version of Fargo. There is a man (Josh Brolin, quite good) who gets involved in a crime far out of his league, but who is not as hapless as Jerry Lundergaard (Bill Macy); there is a very evil man (Javier Bardem) who is like the Peter Stormare character (sans sidekick and much more deadly), and there is the decent but completely underwhelmed small town police force (Tommy Lee Jones, incredible, as usual, and his stupid sidekick), there is the Coens' fascination with the local patois, and there is the same indictment against greed and lust for money from the hearts of ordinary, decent people. Except in this case, the violence is far more vile and the few attempts at humor, which worked so wonderfully in Fargo, really don't match the rest of the tone of the film, which seems rather dispassionate and somber. The screenplay is tight and complicated and the movie is extremely suspenseful and entertaining, but somehow I couldn't muster myself to care, and I'm still trying to figure out why. It's yet another Coen brothers mash up of genres, a lovely mix of a modern Western and a crime thriller, but it's not as flawless as Fargo (to me, the gold standard in Coen brothers films). Perhaps it's that Javier Bardem, as wonderful as he is, is a one dimensional cartoon of pure evil. I like the idea of unexplained, non-psychological evil. In movies, and indeed in the press in the US, they tend to use fastidious over-explanations of human evil (child abuse, etc) and here evil shows up one day and it just is, which is fine by me. And I also really like and respect the open ending because they would have disappointed me deeply if they gave it a completely artificial ending. In fact, the ending is the most interesting part of the movie, as it effects the one and only change in Bardem's character and yet we don't quite know how much of a change it was. It is subtle and brilliant, but my main problem with this film is one of tone. The salt-of-the-Earth people who inhabit this Texas wasteland seem too real compared with Bardem and his Prince Valiant hairdo (don't get me wrong, I'd love this man if he wore a mullet) and I was really disturbed by the bad attempts at ineffectual police humor; they just didn't seem to belong to the same movie, which has a harsher, darker, much less playful feel than suits the usual Coen antics.
I guess film reviewers in the States need to get excited about something, and this is certainly a perfect movie to get excited about. The Coens at least are original, sophisticated filmmakers and this is a much better use of their immense talent than futile stuff like The Ladykillers, but it just didn't blow me away. Fargo did.

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