Late to the party.
In some ways, law school is like reaching the speed of light, you stay frozen while everything around you changes. Well, my finals are over, my law review competition is done and now I can focus on the important things. Like seeing what all the hype and hoopla is about with this movie, No Country for Old Men.
Obviously, just getting around to see this movie means my expectations automatically won’t be met because A) I have lived through with the hoopla and ballyhoo, and B) I read the book (the reason I won’t be renting Kite Runner). However, even generously lowering my expectations, I think the movie in question was just okay.
The movie is about a texas hunter who finds the remnants of a drug deal massacre in the borderlands. He also finds 2 million dollars in a satchel. This, in turn, leads a bad dude to come after him with a silenced pump action. There is a sheriff, always late to the scene, and a wife, a retired col. assassin, and Milten Waddams from Office Space . . . This is surely not the type of summary that spoils anything.
To start with, why did the movie get glowing reviews and the best film for whatever year was my lost year?
It was written by critics (who probably never read the book) that the Coen brothers really make this film their own, while others said the adaptation is a faithful rendering of the book. If by faithful rendering these critics mean that the only way the movie has changed is by reordering some scenes at the end and cutting a few of the kills Chigurh makes, then yes, faithful. While in most films a faithful rendering is difficult because of long descriptive passages, internal monologues, and authorial overviews, my impression of the book No Country for Old Men was that it was pretty much a script anyway. Therefore, I feel like making a faithful rendering of it is not really that big of a deal. A lot of the reviewers seized on the landscape of the movie; while I agree that the stark rendering fits the tone the story perfectly, I have to think that this is again a McCarthy choice. In all his tales, the desert is an objective correlative for his deistic, amoral chaos that accompanies all his characters (or at least the ones that I have read).
So no points off from me on the execution, but its a swan dive the Coen brothers are attempting here, not one and a half somersaults with three and a half twists, in the Free position
I liked the decision to stuff Bell’s (Tommy Lee Jones) visit to his mentor in the penultimate scenes, rather than the final (as it is in the book). In the book the talking about where the world has gone to brings a very nihilistic close and is too pat a commentary for a film. That is the change I give the film credit for, and in all other instances fault it with not doing more with what I think is a very mediocre book in the first place, although a fun read.
To me the book’s philosophy, hailed as brilliant by these critics, is neither brilliant nor consistent. Though, the problem with suggesting the philosophy is inconsistent is that you get a chorus of critics saying its brilliant in its inconsistency. That is just not an argument I will ever buy. Consistency is the indication of design and intention, even purposely inconsistent prose looks that way on purpose. But I digress.
If the movie is, as is claimed, “a literate meditation (scary words for the Transformers crowd) on America’s bloodlust for the easy fix,” then Chigurh is recompense for Moss’s greed in taking 2 million dollars in a satchel. However, as I see it, Moss was free and clear until he decided to go back to the massacre site to give a dying man a drink of water, something he himself refers to as “dumber n’ hell.” Is this the act of a blood luster? Surely the easier fix would be to dump the money on the bed, find the poorly hidden transceiver, and get the hell out of dodge.
Peter Travers (making fun of Transformers above) goes on to say that in No Country … “Good and evil are tackled with a rigorous fix on the complexity involved.” I’ve heard that a few times and can’t decipher what the critics mean (that’s what happens when they don’t include that pesky, justifying “because”).
So let’s take it apart. A.O. Scott called Sheriff Bell the “conscience and philosophical center of the movie” who’s place is to question “what has gone wrong with the world.” The line in which Bell considers that his forebears never even wore a gun seems to argue that it is the world catching up to this isolated Texas town that is the problem the Sheriff is really having. Aside from that, my estimation is that the only role Bell has is to be perpetually late to most of the major incidents in the movie, to be frightened of a changing world, and to provide the narrative framework for the story. In the book the Sheriff is heavier and soft, clearly not made for a hard world that kills with a cattle stun-gun. Thus, I don’t see Bell acting as the philosophical center of the movie, but whatevs.
Mostly what I don’t understand is the inconsistency of fate in the movie. Is Chigurh the fourth horseman of the apocalypse? A force, more than a man? Doubtful. He is seriously wounded after taking a shotgun blast to the leg and there is nothing supernatural about the way he injects lidacaine into his bleeding leg.
He does kill based on a flip of a coin (done to death by Two-face in Batman, if you ask me) and seems to believe his to be the delivery of predestined fate. Although, he foresees nothing. He tells Moss, “You know how this’ll end,” and prophesies Moss laying the satchel down at Chigurh’s feet, but unless I missed something, it is the band of Tech-9 wielding crazies that gets to Moss and starts a fracas at the hotel in the final hotel (getting intel from the old grandmother). Chigurh’s not even around. Carson Wells has it right when he tells Chigurh, “It’s you” not fate, that does the killing. This is proven by Moss’s wife’s refusal to play Chigurh’s predestination game and receiving the parting gift of the business end of his muffled shotgun (I believe that when he checks the bottom of his boots after stepping out her door, he is checking for blood–he shows his aversion to getting blood on his boots earlier in the film when he puts he feet up on the table to avoid Carson’s pool of blood. I don’t blame him; boots are expensive).
That he is a child of predestiny is further undercut when he gets hit by the car. He didn’t see that coming. And neither did we, because in fiction, if something totally random happens without any foreshadow, you will usually look around to find yourself in the story of a first-year writing student. Think, “and then he woke up and it was all a dream.” We call this, when such a random act resolves a main theme, “very convenient for the author.” If Chigurh had narrowly avoided a collision only to have another car hit him, then maybe that would be permissible because our expectations had settled on “safety” after thinking “whoa, that was close.” I vote for an airplane to come out of the sky and strike him, or a meteor.
He’s not fate personified, he’s just a psycho. The sheriff is just a spectator who was on the fence about retirement, and now isn’t. Moss is ridiculously over-matched because he assumes, for some reason, that Chigurh is alone in his pursuit of Moss, but he probably could have handled Chigurh if given the chance. Chigurh goes and kills the owner of the satchell because . . . well, that’s not entirely clear. Probably because he lacks enough back story to understand his motivations. He kills the wife because he thinks he is principled. He gets hit by a car because . . . I dunno, the world is a crazy, mixed-up place. Carson Wells dies because he’s obviously good enough to have been a top assassin hired to clean up major messes, but not good enough to look behind him in a lobby. And Chigurh will probably not be getting anymore hit-men gigs because employers tend to remember when you kills the last person that hired you and half of his crew.
Just too many holes and amorphous motivations for me. I would rent it, but not hail it as the greatest piece of film making to arrive the whole year.