Thursday, 17 January 2008

No Country For Old Men - Review by Sandra Dupuy

Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Screenwriters: Joel & Ethan Coen
Running Time:122 mins
Certificate: 18
Released: Jan 18th

An ambient cinematic mood, darkly reflecting contemporary angst and post-war guilt, has pervaded our screens in the last few months with nostalgic chases (The Assassination of Jesse James…) or pseudo-political wanders (In the Valley of Elah). Rarely have ruthless killers been so much in fashion since Hannibal Lecter’s celluloid reign. Accordingly, the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 No Country for Old Men signs their return to shooting shape and boldly depicts a new breed of ruthless maniac, the moptop page boy from hell.

No Country for Old Men is structurally reminiscent of the Texas noir of their debut, Blood Simple (1983) and possesses the bleakness of Fargo (1996) as well as the random brutality of Miller’s Crossing (1990). A stark tale set in 80s West Texas; it stages the implacable wreckage of three men with utterly conflicting moral codes. Vietnam vet’ and obstinate pronghorn hunter Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong. Barely acknowledging the slaughtered Mexicans, dead dogs and heroin stash, he seizes (a tad too eagerly) a suitcase containing two million dollars. A remorseful nightly venture back to the fly-infested crime scene triggers a merciless manhunt in which blood-curdling assassin Anton Chighur (Javier Bardem) and melancholy sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) crisscross paths and slowly circle Moss in desolate wide-open landscapes under scorching south-western skies.

Forget Brad Pitt’s tormented Jesse James and Johnny Depp’s singing slasher Sweeney Todd, Bardem’s sententious executioner Chigurh is the real McCoy. His unspeakable name, mispronounced as “Sugar”, is both absurd and redolent of the evil he scatters through parched country vistas and blood-smeared motel rooms with his slaughterhouse stun-gun. Impassive and effective, he removes his own bullets with the quiet determination a human Terminator. Though the Coens have adapted MacCarthy’s novel almost verbatim, Bardem appropriates words and actions with intense exultation, a hint of a smirk here, mad bulging eyes there. His pensive pre-murder soliloquies, coupled with Roger Deakins’s stark cinematography and Carter Burwell’s stormy-sounding score, brilliantly contribute to the maintenance of insufferable anxiety in the audience.

No Country for Old Men may recall Anthony Mann’s formal classicism and Sam Peckinpah’s brutal machismo, but it’s no pointless academic exercise. The directors have stamped their unique touch through stylish framing, crepuscular photography, and most of all impeccable cast choice. Oddball secondary characters like western-suited hitman Carson Wells (the hilarious Woody Harrelson) or cancer-ridden Agnes (Beth Grant) bring welcome comic relief and steal the show, in the manner of John Turturro’s inimitable Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski (1998). Themes like chance and fate as accessories to an irreversible chain of events are part and parcel of the Coen’s body of work. The working determinism of No Country… sets off increasingly powerless characters, both hunters and hunted, caught in a trap of lies and pathetic lack of luck.

The maverick brothers are quickly climbing back the slope that threatened to send them into oblivion. After perpetrating such deadly disappointments as the superficial Untolerable Cruelty (2003) or the loathsome remake of Alexander Mackendrick’s Ladykillers (2004), they finally deliver a mature thriller of excruciating tension and mesmerising violence. No Country for Old Men is the sparest movie they’ve made. It’s arid, it’s gripping, it’s awesome. Will rolling Anton finally gather Moss? Don’t wait to check it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Intolerable Cruelty. Was that reference a typo in the text, a Freudian slip or a witty little pun?