Tuesday, January 08, 2008

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: MOVIE REVIEW [Top 2007 - #5]

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald
Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Runtime: 122 min.
Rating: ***** (Masterpiece)
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama

As a third-grader, it wasn’t Hannibal Lecter that terrified me, no sir, not that silly old sociopath too eager to scare. It was that shape shifting cyborg who just wouldn’t stop, the one they called T-1000. And that was then. I look back at that now and a smile appears, he was programmed to be evil. In a way, I guess, that is considerably reassuring. Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, has the same pure brand of evil in him, in a significantly larger quantity. But this time around, there’s no scientific reason to explain him, or even understand him. He just keeps coming unendingly. In him the Coen brothers create one of cinema’s great villains, and if I gather the courage to trust my instincts, probably the greatest I’ve seen.
No Country for Old Men exhibits the kind of skill that would leave you gasping for adjectives. I’ll help here, and supply one – perfect, and in every which way one looks at it. You might also want to wrestle with ‘great’, I would much rather submit. I remember reading the novel, by Cormac McCarthy, and through that superbly knitted prose wondering about the Coen brothers; it was something right up their territory. There’s blood, lots of it, and there’re the good to a fault townspeople. That is the Coen brothers’ country for the taking, but in a way, it isn’t. The Coen brothers have always found their grim, violent situations funny; I could picture them catching a chuckle or two when Carl (Buscemi) shoots Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell) in Fargo, or when the Gundersons seem like gobbling more than a stomach share’s at a free for all in the same film. I have not always found their humor amusing; and that would be for a later day and later time. In McCarthy’s grim epic though, they seem to realize, it seems for the first time, the monumental tragedy at hand. And not for a moment do they find any of it funny, in the process painting the grim world of the novel with mythical colors of the barren west.
At the centre of the myth is a man named, strangely, Anton Chigurh. The name doesn’t stand for anything, nor is anyone sure how to pronounce it. It is just a strange word, just as the man is strange. You wouldn’t know what to make of those eyes, or what to make of what the words coming out of his mouth mean. None of them have any life, or any spirit in them. They just float around, as the man himself, who could be better described as a wind, rather than a breeze. He’s the center, the moral focus or lack of it, and seemingly grappling with this force of nature, having absolutely no comprehension what to make of it are everyone in that country, uniting to form some sort of a joint-protagonist. And none of them seem to be able to muster a reaction against the man, no horror, no tragedy, they’re just plain astonished.
There’s Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been at a job, for a better part of his life, that he finds incomprehensible by the day. There was a time when he must have fought crime with passion, it must have been a war for him. Now though, he doesn’t seem to understand the enemy anymore. And every day, he fears the worst. Not death, but that one day he might lose his own soul. Among the many remarkable sequences that are there on display, virtually every sequence is, there’s one where Sheriff Bell sits on the couch that is still warm (a poet might have used ‘cold’) with Chigurh’s aura. He drinks the milk from the same bottle that is still dripping, from the warmth of Chigurh’s lips. He looks at the television, and it seems, he has a better idea about the force they’re incapable of dealing with than anybody around. Yet he’s almost never near the action, just an onlooker coming to grips with it. I was reminded of Will Graham, and how he might have ended up when he was old.
And then there’s Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who has unknowingly committed the sin of disturbing the wind that is Chigurh. He turns up at a Mexican drug deal gone wrong, and that sort of thing usually involves dead everyone, at least at the movies. He finds a bag of $2.4 million, and he decides to run away with it. He is the kind of man who believes in himself, a headstrong man, and he’s smart to back it up. Yet he doesn’t know the kind of people he’s dealing with, or the kind of man. This is a beautiful character, played by Brolin, directed by the Coens brothers and created by McCarthy. Cinema and literature rarely have it this brilliant.
There’s something musical about the Coen brothers’ pacing, there has always been. Look at the sequences they create, they’re a joy into themselves. Look at the way you hold yourself clutching on to whatever that is nearest, barely a few minutes into the film. Look at the way everyone seems to be lonely in the sequences they’re in, almost none of the principal characters share a frame with each other. Look at the way the frames change, as if someone clapped. All of it has a musical note to it. That, and the dialogues, and in this case, the way the lines are delivered. Consider the opening provided by Tommy Lee Jones drawl, and if you listen to it carefully you might catch a rhyme to the despair in the voice. That sort of music could be felt later too, as Tommy Lee Jones, when asked if Moss knows the kind of guys hunting him, wonders – “I don't know, he ought to. He's seen the same things I've seen, and it's certainly made an impression on me.” I wonder if there’s another actor who could have played Bell; Tommy Lee Jones has it in his drawl, in his voice, and most importantly in those eyes of his. I wonder what kind of a note, or music might serve the film, if any. Silence is all that comes to mind.
No Country for Old Men is the sort of film that my inner self warns me from writing too much about, unknowingly disclosing something by way of the plot. As a thriller you ought to thank your heavens if you come across a more riveting film. Though the violence is just as potent as the weapon Chigurh carries with him, it almost never is the point. It is rather the absence of a reassuring motive that is horrifying. As a drama, its tragedy is apocalyptic, serving as a prelude to McCarthy’s next creation The Road. I said earlier, didn’t I, this is as perfect a film gets, and easily the kind of film that is labeled great. The craft on display is wizardry in its effect. This has been a great year for the films, more so for me, as I seem to be getting the chance to experience films with regularity as I only could have dreamed. It is going to be a mighty war at the awards season, but I believe, No Country for Old Men ought to rest quite assured, in its brilliance, and its greatness, and most important of all, Javier Bardem. We’ll hear of his Anton Chigurh for several years to come.

2 comments:

The Ancient Mariner said...

hey watched the movie sunday night. loved it. was actualy going to mail u abt this one...but excellentmovie good review. the end was very unconventional...and i dint see it coming. so had to come home an download the movie and watch it again!

weak link is the southern accent of TLJ which somtimes sounds like mumbling

Ankan

!TEQ-uila Del Zapata said...

Satish,
Perfectly reviewed.
There is a scene in movie where anton tosses a coin.
and there is a scene where policemen describes the evil of anton to Josh borlin.
All i can say is my tongue rolled back to my stomach after seeing this. I have seen this multiple times and still didn't have enough of it.