Friday, March 7, 2008

Lightning Across the Pond: No Country for Old Men

We check in with Dr. Tom Jolliffe as he takes us inside Best Picture Winner No Country for Old Men:
The story is brilliantly split and interwoven between three points. There’s Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss who stumbles across the remains of a recent drug deal gone bad. Dead bodies lay strewn and he happens across a case full of cash. When he foolishly decides to return to the crime scene he sets in motion a chain of events that put his life on the line. There’s also the psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh who drifts around doing whatever he pleases, killing whoever he deems to have inconvenienced him. The people who think Chrigurh works for them, little realizing that he works for no one. His focus becomes locked on Moss and the cash, setting up the chase aspect of the film. The third element is world weary sheriff Ed Bell, who sets his focus on uncovering the events that lead to the drug deal gone bad, and on finding the over his head Moss. It’s three elements combining brilliantly. The film shouldn’t really work, but the ingenious thing about it, is that it does!

The script is superb. From the start of the film to the end, we gradually uncover more and more. The script offers us so many set ups and pay offs, while like all the best chase movies, there’s a brilliant logic to Chirgurh’s tracking methods. He doesn’t simply appear at the right place when the story needs to move along. In much the same way as The Terminator, there’s something systematic about the way he tracks Moss. It’s intelligent, it works, and adds depth and more excitement to the chase. The Hollywood norm is to forgoe such logic and simply has the chaser appear to terrorize the chase without much reasoning to how they got there. Terminator 3 for example had none of the intelligent build up of the first two films, or indeed No Country. No Country isn’t firstly an action movie, but it manages to be incredibly tense, pulsating during the chase scenes. It’s the mixture of clever touches, the look, the sound design (exceptional) and the performances too, but as a chase movie, it’s one of the best. Indeed what further propells this film to the level of instant classic status, is that fact that it’s got more to it than merely being a chase film. The third element of Lee Jone’s detective work and self analysing life affirming Sherrif Bell, adds a great humanity, soul, and philosophical debate to the picture. There’s several genres and sub-genres that this film becomes entrenched in- doing so to the apex of each element. As an overall piece, it’s just a joy to watch, deconstruct and marvel at.
The film is wonderfully paced. It’s both vast and self contained at the same time, a bizarre yet brilliant mixture of epic western and claustrophobic chase movie. Combining with the artistry of Deakin’s photography, the Coen bro’s paint some brilliant imagery, from the opening chase at dawn with Brolin being chased down by a pick up truck with armed adversaries inside, to Brolin's first close encounter with Bardem. It all looks great and as I mentioned every camera move seems entirely, and perfectly, thought out and delivered. It’s a movie of perfect beats. It’s the shots, the movement within shots, of shots, of cuts. In the same way as Once Upon A Time In The West is a perfectly constructed piece, No Country is of that ilk, and there are very few such movies. Carter Burwell’s score is highly effective. He doesn’t have much music in it, but what there is, is effective and atmospheric.
As I walked out of the screen, contemplating the brilliant alluring, and no doubt endlessly debated, ending scene, not to mention the preceding brilliant beforehand, I knew right then, I’d just seen one of my favorite films. I loved it, simple as that. I raved about it to my brother, with pure exuberance. He wanted to see it beforehand, but following my reaction, his desire became tenfold. We then went to see it a day later. The second viewing, in as many days I can tell you now did not fall behind even in the slightest. The film stood as tall and as proud as it had done upon first seeing it. It was, is, a marvel of filmmaking. A cult movie fans dream, a mainstream movie fans dream. For the thrills it’s exceptional, for the drama it’s powerful, poignant, and it’s all so clever. If No Country For Old Men was to have a fight with any of the other Coen movies; several of which rank as some of my favorite movies, then we’d be talking No Country as superman in the blue (and red, with a bit of yellow) corner and Woody Allen, with his arms behind his back, in the grey corner; No contest and no kryptonite in sight.