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Monday, November 12, 2007

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Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2007 at 6:36 PM

MOVIEGOER REVIEW:  NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

It wasn't too long ago, as I was agonizing through "Intolerable Cruelty," that I asked myself what happened to the Coen Brothers?  These were the same guys, who for almost nothing, made "Blood Simple" and took the indy film scene by storm.  They hit their stride early, suggesting a sort of cinematic genius not seen since a young Orson Welles made "Citizen Kane" at the age of 26.  You might argue such a distinction is a bit lofty, but when, over a nine year period these boys made "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink," and "Fargo," I'm willing to go to the mattresses that the distinction is deserved.

Which is why, sitting in the theater watching George Clooney (and I really like George Clooney) and Catherine Zeta Jones stumble through a poor script (Oscar winner Tom Hanks would do the same one year later in "The Lady Killers") I threw up my arms.  This is the third one in a row, I proclaimed.  No one was listening, of course, and I didn't have this blog to lament.
Still, it hurt because I had an affection fo the Coen's way of making movies.  I saw "The Big Lebowski" when I was a sophomore in college and was part of a group of curious young adults drawn to its hippie, dare to grow up lead played with gusto by Jeff Bridges.  The dude, at least in my book, always abides.

When "O Brother Where Art Thou," came to the screen in 2001 I was living in a college town, and I saw it in a packed theater filled with eager college kids.  It was a great way to watch a movie. It's also when I realized that the Coens could work creative magic with someone elses material.

But like most, "Fargo," made in 1996 when I was 18, was the film that introduced me to Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and the cold, violent streak of the Coens.  I loved every minute of it.

In their latest effort, "No Country for Old Men," they return to their form - the same form that made "Blood Simple" and "Fargo" so great.  Adapting Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same title, the film stars Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Tess Harper and the bloodcurdling Javier Bardem. 

Set in south Texas, a welder named Llewellyn Moss (Mr. Brolin) stumbles on a drug deal gone bad.  He finds a case filled with two million in cash, and, like a dumb country boy, takes it.  At what point do greasy cowboys stop messing with drug dealers?  Of course, he doesn't think to check it, because if he had, he'd know the case contains a transponder that allows it to be traced. 

And fast on the case's trail is Anton Chigurh (Mr. Bardem), the most haunting screen villain (and arguably the most strangly recognizeable) ever invented.  Mr. Jones is Tom Ed Bell, the town sheriff, and while he may talk slow, he smartly predicts the horror that Chigurh is about to infect his town.  He is the film's moral center, shocked and awed at man's capability to kill. 


Violence is nothing new for the Coens, who wrote, directed, produced and edited the film.  And "No Country for Old Men," is violent.  You can't be surprised; after all Chigurh's weapon of choice is an air gun whose intended use is to blast the brains out of cows.  He uses it to blast the brains out of people. 

From the very beginning of the film, the chase is on across a sterile landscaped magnificently photographed by Roger Deakins.  The music is sparse, appropriately so.  Squeaking floorboards and silence accentuate the film's darkest, scariest moments.

In the hands of lesser talent, "No Country for Old Men" would be just another movie.  But thankfully it's carefully crafted by two of America's finest filmmakers.  And the result, floating in the bloody wake of Anton Chigurh, a character we'll never forget, is a masterpiece.

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