Reviewed by: Kenneth R. Morefield
|Featuring:||Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Stephen Root, See all »|
|Director:||Ethan Coen, Joel Coen|
|Producer:||Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, David Diliberto, Robert Graf, Mark Roybal, Scott Rudin|
“One discovery can change your life. One mistake can destroy it.”
Here’s what the distributor says about their film:
“NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a… thriller from Academy Award®-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the acclaimed novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning American master, Cormac McCarthy. The time is our own, when rustlers have given way to drug-runners and small towns have become free-fire zones. Featuring a cast that includes Academy Award®-winner Tommy Lee Jones (THE FUGITIVE, MEN IN BLACK), Josh Brolin (GRINDHOUSE), Academy Award®-nominee Javier Bardem (THE SEA INSIDE), Academy Award®-nominee Woody Harrelson (THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT) and Kelly Macdonald (TRAINSPOTTING)… The story begins when Llewelyn Moss (BROLIN) finds a pickup truck surrounded by a sentry of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law—in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell (JONES)—can contain. As Moss tries to evade his pursuers—in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives (BARDEM)—the film simultaneously strips down the American crime drama and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible, and as bloodily contemporary as this morning’s headlines.”
The latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) should please their fans a lot and fans of Cormac McCarthy’s novel a little (provided they aren’t squeamish about violence), but it probably won’t win them a whole lot of new fans. “No Country for Old Men” opened at the Toronto International Film Festival, a venue used by many studios to try to create positive buzz for their major fall releases. While most of the critics who saw the film in Toronto have positive (or at least respectful) reviews, the film didn’t create the strong buzz normally associated with an early Oscar push. Looking through the archives of Christian Spotlight at responses to other Coen brothers films served to solidify my impression that “No Country for Old Men” will probably be a polarizing film; those who like the Coen’s style will find it a treat, while those who generally shy away from “R” rated films will have a hard time getting past the stylized violence.
Given the recent surge in popularity of Cormac McCarthy’s work created by the selection of The Road for Oprah’s Book Club, the film may draw some viewers who might not otherwise be drawn. The plot is set in motion by the decision of Lleweln Moss (the surprisingly effective Josh Brolin) to take two million dollars in cash he finds at the scene of a drug deal gone bad near the Mexican border. He is chased by a sociopathic hitman (played by Javier Bardem) who uses an air-powered rifle to kill (which he does a lot) and a dying-breed, old-school sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) who delivers hard earned nuggets of wisdom to his deputy and witnesses.
“No Country for Old” wants to incorporate its source novel’s probing emphasis on themes of chance, free-will, and predestination—all themes that would (or should) be of interest to Christian audiences—but the nature of film as a medium makes it hard for the Coens to incorporate the self-reflective qualities of McCarthy’s novel. Yes, there is a voice-over speech that starts the film, and a longer monologue that closes it, but these serve only to frame the violence at the beginning and the end, not to imbue it with meaning throughout. The assassin tracking Moss is a little too clever and quirky for my tastes, though this rendering is consistent with the source material, as well. Perhaps audiences have been weaned on Quentin Tarantino for too long to not judge this character for his coolness instead of his evil, but the device of having the most morally bankrupt character deliver the most theologically orthodox questions doesn’t really retain the effect it does in the hands of more effective artists. (I’m thinking specifically of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”)
The acting is terrific, with Kelly MacDonald and Tess Harper sadly underused in supporting roles and Jones giving a restrained performance when restraint is most needed. There were some minor changes to the source material, including the elimination of a female hitchhiker that I suspect was made to make Moss more sympathetic. These should not bother fans of the novel too much, but I think they will ultimately make the ending harder to accept and understand for those who—reasonably in my mind—have seen three quarters of a straight genre flick and may be miffed by a change of gears in the last act. The cinematography is good, as one has come to expect from a Coen brothers film.
I had mixed feelings about this one. It would be easy enough to tell content sensitive viewers to steer clear (they should), but otherwise endorse it. I certainly think it will be praised in many quarters and would not be surprised to see it garner several awards or nominations. Ultimately, however, I just keep thinking it is at heart a pretty generic action/chase film with a good pedigree. There are parts that are excellent, but these parts don’t seem to be intrinsic to the film so much as inherited from the source material or associations we have with other projects of the talent involved. That said, I’m not the biggest fan of the Coen’s oeuvre; I feel safe to say that those who are, will love it.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Mild
Response to above from another viewer: Positive—I don’t want to go into why this film is the masterwork that it is, but you mention there being no climax, or no ending and I do want to respond to that. The film very much has an ending. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is the protagonist and once one recognizes that the film becomes all the more powerful. The ending is exactly what it seems. A good man has given up, the evils of the world have overwhelmed him and as a result evil moves on free to do whatever it pleases. It is a bleak view of the world we live in but a powerful meditation on the evil and violent world around us. 'Evil triumphs when good men fail to act'. This is by far the best film I have seen this year and possibly the best I have seen in the last five or so years. Try to appreciate it for what it is and don’t fit it into the standard box of what a story or film has to be and you may enjoy/take more from it.
Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5