Friday, February 29, 2008

No Country for Old Men


No Country for Old Men; thriller, USA, 2007; D: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, S: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper

Texas, '80s. While hunting in the desert, the young Llwelyn accidentally stumbles upon some cars in the desert and dead gangsters who killed themselves. He finds a suitcase with 2 million $ in it and takes it. He returns to the place that night, but is attacked by a group of Mexican gangsters. Anton Chigurh, a psychopath killer, is hired to bring back the money. Llwelyn sends his wife Jean to her mother's place and hides in motels. Anton finds him with the help of a transponder, but Llwelyn wounds him and goes to the Mexican territory. Meanwhile, Jean tells everything to the old Sheriff Ed Tom Bell who tries to save Llwelyn, but comes too late since Anton already found him. Anton also kills Jean, gets wounded in a car crash and runs away. Retired, Bell tells his wife how he dreamed about his late father.

Vatican's newspaper L'Osservatore Romano lamented about the Academy giving "No Country for Old Men" the best picture Oscar, stating it rewards violent films without hope. That is in a way true, but the story about a "duel" between a hitman and a cowboy who took a suitcase full of money is framed by the unusual, but quintessential subplot revolving around older Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who represents the old, moral, classic generation of Texas and can't seem but to wonder how the new, young generation is falling apart and losing all of it's values, culminating in his talk with an old friend who tells him how this "greed for money has gone too far". In that little, but subtle hint there lies a moral about people who should decide whether they want to live in harmony or in crime. By adapting a "foreign" novel of the same name, the Coen brothers were somehow brought "down-to-earth" by it's author Cormac McCarthy: instead of a extremely stylish repertoire filled with bizarreness and surreal touch, they somehow made an untypically normal, serious and straight forward crime thriller-drama reminiscent of bitter achievements from Peckinpah.

Somewhere in the exposition, there is a great sequence where cowboy Llwelyn accidentally stumbles upon some dead drug dealers in the desert and simply picks up their suitcase full of money, but the stand out (negative) highlight in the film is delivered by the characters of hitman Anton Chigurh (in a terrifying performance by Javier Bardem who won a BAFTA, Golden Globe and Oscar for his role) who is pure evil, menacing and very powerful, even though the Coens tried not to show him as a one-dimensional, omnipotent bad guy, like in the sequence where he is badly wounded in his leg, but can't call an ambulance. So what does he do? He puts some random car on fire and while all the people go out to see what's going on, he simply enters the empty pharmacy and takes all the medication he needs. Some moments are ontological, Woody Harrelson is great in his small role of a private detective for comic relief, while the sequence where Llwelyn suddenly wakes up in his hotel room and discovers he has a beeper in his money suitcase, hears some footsteps in the hallway and thus waits for Anton, is so suspenseful that it reaches Hitchcock's caliber. Sheriff Bell is obviously just a male version of Coen's own Marge Gunderson in "Fargo", and some of plot elements from their previous crime films are also nothing new, but they really manage to twist the dusty thriller cliches with their unusual ideas (towards the finale, they missed a perfect ending when Anton was driving in his car but all of a sudden got hit by another one in a car crash). This may be just a hard-boiled "male flick", but it's very intriguing.

Grade:+++

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