No Country for Old Men (Miramax/Paramount Vantage, R)

film_nocountry_sm.jpgWriting a review is a difficult process when you want to just type, "ignore every other sentence but this one: see this fucking movie."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s both refreshing and potentially alarming about walking into a new Coen brothers film is the prior knowledge that, after 12 features (I’m not counting Paris je t’aime), they’ve yet to make a bad film. I’m not going as far to say that I’ve liked all of their films (I’m not crazy about The Ladykillers, nor do I really know how I feel about The Big Lebowski), but it’s hard to call any of them "bad." Most respected filmmakers can barely go five years without slipping up, but the Coens have managed a nearly 25-year streak of exceptional filmmaking, and no one has supported them stronger than the Cannes Film Festival, who’ve awarded them two Palmes d’Or (Barton Fink, Fargo) and two best director prizes (Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There).

So, wasn’t it distressing to see that they went home empty-handed this year when presenting No Country for Old Men? A similar occurrence happened when Lars von Trier, a frequently lauded entity at Cannes, brought Dogville to the festival in 2002. Dogville was, safe to say, the best work of his career, yet the fear of "do we give him a fucking award every time he comes around?" set in. The same could be said for No Country for Old Men, far and away the Coens’ best film in ten years, like Dogville, unfairly ignored in Cannes, assumedly from throwing trophies the brothers’ way before officially unveiling their chef d’oeuvre.

To be honest, No Country for Old Men probably ranks as one of my best filmgoing experiences of late. It’s a film that delivers such concentrated intensity, a force that’s both highly uncomfortable and totally immobilizing. I know that sounds unpleasant, but that’s the sort of beauty in No Country for Old Men. The Coen brothers’ vision here is utterly uncompromising in all its brutality and quiet grievances. As Llewelyn Moss, Josh Brolin holds substantial ground, both as a character and actor, against the real scene-stealer, Javier Bardem, a mop-headed, gravel-voiced killer in search of the $2 million Llewelyn is running off with. With Grindhouse, American Gangster and this, Brolin has actually managed to become the breakout star of 2007, 22 years after he starred in The Goonies.

Investigating the missing briefcase is local sheriff Tommy Lee Jones, who, after The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, can don a cowboy hat for the rest of his career in my book. Rounding out the rest of the cast is Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting) as Llewelyn’s wife, Woody Harrelson as a man hired to get the money before Bardem, and Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood) as Jones’ deputy, who might have worked at the Twin Peaks police department if ever relocated.

In contrast to No Country for Old Men being one of my finest theater experiences, it’s also been one of my hardest writing assignments. There’s a real beauty in creating extensive essays on films you’ve watched hundreds of times, but writing for the virgin audience is always difficult, especially if you’ve only had once chance to see the film you’re writing about. How much of the plot is acceptable to give away when, ultimately, the reader just wants to know whether it’s good or not? How can one convey in words what happens onscreen with giving respect to the experience of actually seeing it? It’s a difficult process when you want to just type, "ignore every other sentence but this one: see this fucking movie."

No Country for Old Men is precisely the film that gave me what I didn’t know I wanted in such a brilliant manner, which is always a testament to great filmmakers. If the Academy Awards want to win back the respect of anyone who’s disliked all of their top honorees in the past 15 years (other than The Departed, of course), they’ll award the fuck out of No Country for Old Men. Plus, isn’t it written somewhere that part of being an American is reveling in proving the French wrong? | Joe Bowman

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