Oscar ceremonies are sometimes dominated by one or two films because the opposition is weak, but that definitely wasn't the case in 2008. Nominees included No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Juno, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Ratatouille, Once, The Bourne Ultimatum, Into the Wild, Atonement, Michael Clayton, Eastern Promises and American Gangster.
I was torn at the time because I couldn't decide whether I wanted There Will Be Blood or No Country for Old Men to win for Best Picture. In hindsight, my two favorite films from that year are Juno and No Country for Old Men. I think the Academy got it right for once by awarding No Country for Old Men the Best Picture Oscar and Daniel Day-Lewis Leading Actor.
So why do I think that No Country for Old Men deserved its win?
The film contains so many strong elements. It gave us three memorable characters and expertly combined their three viewpoints to give us a compelling story. Roger Deakins did another wonderful job showing us the bleak Texas landscape, while the direction and writing were both superb.
Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) makes a discovery while hunting for antelope. After tracking an injured animal, he finds what appears to be the result of a failed drug deal. Five trucks are surrounded by corpses and he deduces that the last man standing would have looked for shade. He eventually locates the final corpse and finds a case containing two million dollars. Moss lives in a trailer with his wife and the money represents a chance to completely change his life.
The most interesting character is Anton Chigurh (Bardem). We see him captured by police at the start of the film, but he escapes and kills a deputy in the process. He is extremely violent and his motives are unclear. At times he appears supernatural in the way he evades capture. Is he supposed to represent Death or the Devil? Bardem makes Chigurh one of the most memorable villains ever to appear on screen. There's a scene which rivals Tarantino's farmhouse scene in Inglourious Basterds in terms of tension. Chigurh has a conversation with a gas station owner and it ends with a coin flip. The scene is both absurd and chilling at the same time. We know what's at stake.
The other major character is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones). He's old, wise and extremely competent. Some of his choices show that he's more concerned with self-preservation than pursuing criminals, but he somehow gets the job done. One of his strengths is the ability to reconstruct crime scenes. He has a dry sense of humor and uncanny instincts.
The first part of the story focuses on Moss. He's an experienced tracker and a Vietnam veteran and we see him trying to evade pursuit. At first, he doesn't know who will be coming after him, but eventually learns that it's Chigurh. Instead of simply leaving the country, he decides to face Chigurh himself. That might seem to be a stupid choice, but Moss does have some intelligence and appears able to take care of himself.
Chigurh also seems highly competent and we get the sense that he's being doing what he does for a very long time. His pursuit is relentless. When he is injured, he's able to take care of his own wounds. He does bleed, but there's still the sense that he either is, or he at least represents, a supernatural force.
I won't reveal any more of the plot. I have heard two complaints about the film. One is the level of violence present and the other is the unusual ending. I think the ending is partly showing how unpredictable life can be, but I understand the complaints. I thought the ending was appropriate and my only regret was that I couldn't watch these characters for longer.
No Country for Old Men is many things. On the surface, it's the story of an extended chase. The Coen brothers said that it is a story of a good, evil and something between the two. Moss can be perceived as good or evil, but he's definitely committing a crime.
Some of the scenes require us to pay close attention to the events and contain very little dialogue. It reminds me of the opening sequence in There Will Be Blood in that way. It succeeds because of the writing and the tension that's present throughout the story. If you enjoy thrillers, this is one of the best I have seen.
The Blu-ray presentation is just about perfect. Every little sound comes across clearly and the Texas scenery looks breathtaking at times.
on November 8, 2010
Being the arthouse cinema fan that I am, over the last 10 or so years I would occasionally watch a Hollywood movie for entertainment, but I gave up any hope of seeing anything truly artistic from that source. It was about time I was chastened for my arrogance, and sure enough, I came across 'No Country for Old Men' a couple of weeks ago. What attracted me was the title lifted from Yeats; I correctly guessed that it must have been the title of the book on which the film was based, but at that stage I had not yet read the book nor was even aware of its existence.
What a feast! A violent modern western on the surface; a dark and bitter existential meditation underneath; actors working their socks off; solid direction and camera work; a minimalistic soundtrack that is as un-Hollywoodian as they get; all of this works together and keeps one impressed non-stop.
The layered structure of the film is quite ambitious, but thankfully, the directors do not spell things out for the viewer. If anything, certain things were made less obvious than they are in the book, and that enhanced the overall impact. For example, it takes the full length of the film, including the paradoxical ending, to bring the viewer to the realisation that the protagonist of the story is Sheriff Bell - the least likely of the three candidates for that role. This realisation has quite an impact by itself, but it also takes care of the loose ends of the surface plot - not by tying them up in any logical way but by rendering them irrelevant, which is so much better. The film is about the sheriff, and as far as he is concerned, there are no loose ends left: he lost on all counts; the bad guy won. The book is rather more direct about matters like who got the money in the end, and after the film this certainly felt like a weakness: what is the point of trying not to disappoint the readers who do not get the point, if you know what I mean... To be fair, the book is not always direct, but the film is even less so. For instance, McCarthy pointedly avoided describing the deaths of Moss and his wife in gory detail (in sharp contrast to the overall style of the book); the death of the former is even narrated by a third party rather than directly by the author. The film goes further, merely implying both these deaths.
The tense scene where Chigurh and the sheriff appear to be standing at the opposite sides of a motel room door is not to be found in the book. There are several ways of interpreting what happened there, and each of the possibilities enriches the story in its own way. My guess is that the two characters are not actually present there at the same time and that when Chigurh calmly observes the flicker of light through the punched-out hole in the lock, this is in fact just an image in Sheriff Bell's mind - a visual manifestation of his fear, which we are given a chance to see as yet another hint at the fact that the sheriff is, after all, the main character of the story. Of course, this cannot be literally the image in his mind because the sheriff does not know what Chigurh looks like - but the viewer does...
A few more words about that infamous ending. I always like it when a film ends at an unexpected point, but here this old trick achieves so much more than delivering a parting surprise. Yes, the final sequence comes from the book verbatim, but unlike the book, the film is wide open at that point because of some small changes to the plot, so what the viewer gets is an anticlimax by the action genre standards and a knockout artistically. A character describing his dream is a staple of arthouse cinema, and here we get not one but two dreams, told to us by the downbeat Tommy Lee Jones, alone in the frame, in such a thick Texan accent that I had to rewind and switch on the subtitles. Everything falls into place, except for the things that, as it dawns on us, do not matter. And can there be a better punch line than "And then I woke up", followed immediately by the credits?
on January 26, 2008
Having read and enjoyed the book, I was looking forward to seeing the movie. After hearing all the critical praise let me tell you that it's all true. The acting is flawless with Javier Bardem being one of the most bone chilling villains in recent film history. A lot of this movie is unconventional but that's what makes it great.
Go see it!
on February 4, 2016
An unforgiving movie, good script, brilliant actors, unconventional ending. Suspense and intensity at every turn. Tommy Lee Jones in a contemplative role, which is unusual. The plot gravitates around a hunter who discovers the bounty of a drug deal gone wrong. He runs away with a lot of money, but his chased along. A shadowy character steals the show with increasing intensity.
on January 8, 2014
Another ball hit out of the park by the Brothers Coen! Javier Bardem is a relentless, overwhelming juggernaut who will stop at nothing to get what he feels is his, while Tommy-Lee Jones exudes a palpable weariness underscored by an old-fashioned determination to do his job at any cost. Your dreams will be haunted by the grim, unsmiling face of Anton Chigurh (Bardem).