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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No Country for Old Men

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With their latest release, No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel Coen made a film that possesses a stunning degree of convince power concerning the era, the scenery, and the mood it is depicting and tells its story from. As an extremely precise film adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy book by the same title, No Country for Old Men is a movie of rigorously realistic, and all the while, bizarrely beautiful directions and proportions.

If you ever believed or still believe in heroes, McCarthy and the Cohen brothers will ask you the very strict question of how firm and defendable your personal concept of a hero is, as the conditions and circumstances the film delivers do not stop at a stable statement of how these unfolding threats are beyond old men to take - they also generally claim men to be men, drawing clearly made points of how money that is found easily is both a dangerous friend to stumble upon, and, for some: a sweet fruit to be lethally tempted by.

No Country for Old Men disposes quite quickly of the mere concept of heroism at its very first moments, even better: events and statements the film delivers are relying on the simple notion of how the protagonists are lacking every single attributes you would associate to the average (huh?) hero character. The film's general mood and the very language its shown environment speaks in conforms with a Wild West image which either have forgotten all its glories, or seemingly has a very hard time to remember them. This latter option is more tenable in my consideration though, as the movie intentionally chooses to focus on behavioral extremities, using this Texan environment as a timeless space to behold goodness, neutrality and ultimate ignorance/evil unleashed. That is how I do not tend to regard No Country for Old Men to be a work of eternal pessimism, I would rather considerate this piece of art as a series of warning signs, shown right into our faces wherever we look at during the film's playtime.

Very common, thus highly believable humane motivations join their forces with superstable action-drama, resulting in a lethal hunter hunted game which this Wilder Than Ever West watches with us, silently. The film quickly offers a rendition of how strict the rules are standing for here, making prey of one of its main protagonists the moment he tries to exhibit even a very basic degree of human compassion. But there is NO compassion, as this is No Country for Old Men, and neither there is excuse to miss this one out, babe!

Let us start with a brief synopsis on the motivational factors of the story. Picture that you are a hunter, looking for deers to molest in the Texan desert, and picture you stumble upon a scenery of a deal that obviously went more sour than any deal that went sour ever before. Llewelyn Moss - Josh Brolin - finds himself in this very situation, discovering a heavy load of heroin in the cars, those being scattered on this normally vacant scene, and also he finds a lone survivor, struggling at the very end of his life, begging for water. Remember, this part of the desert recognizes no compassion, Llewelyn walks away with all the goods he could loot by his hands, and decides to follow the tracks surrounding the scene of the massacre. Suffice it to say that he soon finds himself in the quite arguably legit, yet factual possession of more than two million bucks, yet compassion finally kicks in in the night.

Llewelyn decides to re-approach the scenery during the moon's cover, armed with his handgun and a jug of water for the man he found in such an agony before. Parking his car in a safe distance, he approaches the scene, yet punishment for forbidden compassion clearly and ruthlessly emerges indeed, as an unknown car lines up to his vehicle, scanning the site with serious, seeerious spotlights.

From here on, the game of hunter and hunted begins, utilizing three major perspectives, the first of them being Llewelyn's of course, presenting his carefully planned agenda of both keeping his wife and himself alive, while his intention to keep and enjoy all the possible perspectives and benefits of the sum remains as solid as stone.

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As for the other two points of essential views, and, given that the deal went incorrigibly wrong and final, the interest(s) whom want to claim the sum back quickly reduce to but one main character, a person who methodically eliminates his previous associates so he could go after the money in a solo fashion, claiming the precious loot just for himself. This enigmatic, sort of an anti-superhero character of Anton Chigurh is rendered via masterful convincing power by Javier Bardem, and quite interestingly, his hilarious haircut makes more big of a psychopath of him then he already acts as. As we will see though, his character is definitely reigns beyond standard human qualities, he is ignorance and mercilessness rampant, personified. Though his presence is a key motivational factor for the fabric of the story, his character probably has the most to do with the questions and answers No Country For Old Men asks and offers, as well.

Finally, the third perspective goes for a usually and welcomely flawless Tommy Lee Jones. As an old timer Sheriff, being in the possession of quite sober, traditional values, he gives a massively strong and authentic performance based upon both pure skills and personal charisma this actor so undoubtedly and naturally owns.

This here is a good time to sink ourselves into the main driving factor of No Country for Old Men, mainly the relations of the characters, though we should priorly emphasize that all whom we see and hear during the film do deliver the quality of acting that you fail to regard as mere acting, so good they are indeed - in my consideration, this is one of the most evident attributes of a motion picture that poses immense chance of becoming an instant classic. It is certainly worth mentioning that the movie takes place in 1980, therefore clothing, cars, and the general atmosphere are all rendering this era with a great degree of devoted attention and precision.

The figures depicted in No Country for Old Men clearly pose strong relation to the mere idea and concept of American freedom and American style in general. Chigurh reigns at the definite negative of the spectrum of all acts and behaviors one could falsely identify as a tenable attitude America would tolerate or even hint at, yet this is the very key element to the character: his self-claimed TOTAL freedom to act knows no moral or compassionate limits and boundaries: what he needs, he takes. He is the ultimate, the new age villain, personified human monster variant of the most horrific antiheroes the old Wild West could ever come up with.
Chigurh walks and acts in this consensual reality as he would have happened to be just creating it. Taking someone's life poses little less of a bother for him than reheating coffee gone cold, and the character works, and works with a ruthless efficiency.

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Yet, he possesses a twisted, dare we say: hilarious sense of governing factor in the sense and form of a massively tainted, yet quite operational moral system, based on pure luck and his personal, sear enjoyment. A game he frequently plays, a game of heads or tails, deciding the fate of the caller he has his bizarre intellectual bliss with based upon the caller's succession or failure to tip the result correctly. These are the actual moments of fun he can attain, and also the ultimate self expression ability of the character, save his killings, when he speaks in the language of lethal, quick violence. It is not correct to regard Chigurh as someone who forgot how to feel and act compassionately though, as he is someone who simply is unaware of this very concepts, thus works and operates with equations that are naturally lacking these basic value factors.

Going on further on our imaginary scale of American freedom, we arrive at pure neutrality, personified by Llewelyn's character.
He is a hard, hard nut to crack, not someone you could scare or intimidate easily. As Vietnam veteran and thus experienced gunslinger himself, he needs not to knock on the neighbor's door to borrow courage and determination, yet even he is below the twisted, tainted efficiency of Chigurh. Llewyin is the stoic, basically peaceful individual who recognizes a dangerous, though a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the fate of his beloved and himself, thus his actions to preserve the sum he attained are evidently fueled off of everyday greed and probably a considerate degree of self-flattery, a firm belief that he is capable to pull this reckless act off even against Ignorance Personified.

Tommy Lee Jones's character of course reigns on the positive register of the scale of American freedom and style, with a keen and firm readyness to confront those whom are breaking the laws. Is he though a man to possess or maintain an idealistic belief that one day America will awake to an eternally peaceful day with no crimes and no villains running amok present? Definitely not. Though the question if the Sheriff's character finds a personal inner peace during the film or must he face a conclusion he spent a life fighting against, naturally shall be not eagerly touched upon in this here review for possible spoiling considerations, yet I mind you and mind you I, eagerly: this is a movie without heroes, and its only character with reminiscent values to the ones a hero should possess, lives in a region that holds but quite vague memories of exceptional good deeds, a region that tends to live its territorial and social life in a very steady, very calculable fashion.

The movie boosts hilarious, precise comic book pictures of individual existences, petrified into these authentic "desert roles". Very important grouchy lady behind very important desk, exhibiting her masterfully defined conviction of her excessive authority, coffee houses filled with stories everyone heard a million times before and still trying to summon the will to laugh at one of them. The role of the aforementioned, grouchy lady with excessive authority demands emphasis though, no doubt.

Notice one particular scene, in which a request made by Chigurh towards the lady is firmly dismissed by the cited side character. Her role is more important than we would think, and here is how: she, as Chigurh recognizes, exhibits proper, and pure power through rejecting him, therefore, she, as relentless representer and proprietor of such proper power, certainly should be respected. That is the logic of Chigurh, and that is the world, no doubt, that holds a timeless place for it. The New-Age Super-Villain leaves the territory of the grouchy lady as the firmly-, and thoroughly dismissed. Not because he couldn't splat the grouchy lady's head all over the establishment, no. This is because the lady utilizes the tools- and temper to resonate a power which is quite capable to firmly, thoroughly dismiss even an excessively dangerous evildoer. A tiny, but very important moment, in my opinion.

The character of Llewelyn is a child, and now, a man of this environment, and soon as the hunter hunted game begins, the movie maintains the quality action-drama that Chigurh's rampant presence quickly renders unto the usual still life peace of this Texan desert region and its surrounding establishments.

The most important aspect of the quite memorable chasearound No Country for Old Men delivers is that Llewelyn and Chigurh are both highly intelligent dudes as far as psychological and armed warfare goes, thus the author of the story and the directors all had the chance to present events via long image sequences without textual content present or being necessary, developing the story by sheer cunningness and crystal clear understanding of suspense and drama. The motel-sketches are superb examples and peek moments of both of this approach and the film in general, summoning special moments where the story develops on three separate layers, though the viewer is intentionally kept to one particular perspective, still being informed of co-occurring events via sane, suspenseful interaction between the shown perspective and the outer elements that are influencing it. All sketches, and little visual vibration adds something to the final experience as far as the story or the rendition of the atmosphere goes, while the climax portion and final conclusion of No Country of Old Men seemingly lefts us with the impression of no hope or the promise of a brighter day offered.

This is not the case though, in my opinion. The film shows us all conceivable extreme aspects of American style and human basic nature, I might even try and draw a cautious parallel with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly here, since as I see it, No Country for Old Men simply - and no doubt, wisely - just emphasizes and solidifies its statements by ending the way it DOES end, showing a world operating as it DOES operate. It firmly refuses to make a final verdict and decision, while stating clearly that ignorance is a sticky element to count with, yet through its very last, cleverly cynical sentence No Country for Old Men arrives to a quite cunning interpretation field, one which is more than enough to depress and thus justify the pessimist, and also it is one to offer a confirmation factor for the optimist, a confirmation that the seeking of the ability to coexist in harmony may not have came to a halt, after all. It is possible that it has just begun.

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Dean Rader said...

I really like your observation about how the film feeds into notions of American style and American freedom.

It could be this American-ness that allows someone like Chigurh to have a pretty highly developed moral code.

I actually write about this and why The Road and the film, No Country for Old Men, are popular right now in my post yesterday. If interested, you can check it out here:

GyZ said...

Hey Dean, thank you for your comment, you are the first to leave feed on this site.

I read your article and found it a very serious and legit analysis, n1, please keep them coming. 8)