Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Top-10 1/2 of the Decade: #2

2.  No Country For Old Men (2007)

 “I always liked to hear about the oldtimers. Never missed a chance to do so. You can't help but compare yourself against the oldtimers. Can't help but wonder how theyd've operated these times. There was this boy I sent to the 'lectric chair at Huntsville Hill here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killt a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn't any passion to it. Told me that he'd been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he'd do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell. "Be there in about fifteen minutes". I don't know what to make of that. I surely don't. The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, "O.K., I'll be part of this world."        
                        —Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, “No Country For Old Men.”

            This is going to be my longest review 1) because NCFOM is my personal favorite movie and I could talk about it until I’m blue in the face; 2) because my number 1 isn’t that exciting and doesn’t need as much defense; 3) because many people don’t like, appreciate, understand, or comprehend this movie; 4) because I’d rather pretend I was a movie critic than a law student; and 5) because frankly, it’s my blog.   If you haven’t seen the movie, you should probably not read any further, first because of spoilers galore, and second because this is a challenging movie that requires one to form their own thoughts or opinions about it before reading someone else’s.  But afterwards, come back here and read my persuasive, poignant analysis of the second-greatest cinematic achievement of the decade. 

            People always ask me how this could be my favorite movie.  It’s an understandable skepticism; I mean, the movie is only two years old.  The best way for me to explain it is that I think the movie catered to my exact movie-going needs and desires, both technically and thematically.  Let’s start with the former.  First, you’ve got the book by Cormac McCarthy (of The Road and All the Pretty Horses fame), master of the modern western, as a blueprint for the script.  Then, you’ve got the Coen brothers directing—the perfect directors for capturing McCarthy’s stark realism.  Acting-wise, Javier Bardem effortlessly slaughters every second of his screen time as Anton Chigurh, one of the best villains to ever hit the silver screen (we’ll get back to this character in a minute).  Josh Brolin and Tommy-Lee Jones hold up their end of the bargain as well, playing “mouse” to Chigurh’s “cat” and the Sheriff caught in between the two (see above).  One interesting note: these are the three focal characters of the story, yet none of the three share any screen time with the other.

            One of the major themes of the movie is the idea of fate, emphasized by the ever-becoming-legendary “gas station scene,”  when an unassuming west Texas gas station owner involuntarily puts his life on the line at the hands of Chigurh’s coin flip.  His hypocrisy is exposed, however, in conversations with his victims as well as his untimely brush with a bit of fate himself.  As cool as this aspect of the movie is, it is eclipsed by the major theme of the movie, the idea that, well…this is truly “no country for old men.”  And that’s where the biggest complaint I hear about the movie comes in, the complaint that makes me turn green and do a Hulk-Smash, the complaint that makes me lose faith in humanity…

(I don’t know if I can say it…)


“The movie was great until the ending, which sucked.”


….ahem.  So.
            When Llewelyn dies, we see a shift in perspective for the rest of the story.  It becomes evident that Sheriff Bell is the focal point of the movie, and the cat and mouse chase is the backdrop to Bell’s inability to understand and catch up to an ever-changing world.  But don’t act like this was some sort of “surprise.”  Look at the quote at the top: this was the beginning of the movie!  Right after he says these words, the title flashes across the screen.  This should have been a huge indication to you about what this movie was trying to say.  Instead, you got up in arms that the resolution wasn’t what you thought it would be, that the good guy died, the bad guy got away, and the sheriff couldn’t catch him or make any sense of what happened.  While you were so preoccupied with being pissed that these things happened, you missed a beautiful, profound ending…one that will make an impression on you if you let it.  See, Bell chalks up his inability to understand the ever-changing world (and thus his inability to catch Chigurh) to the downfall of society…”As soon as sir and ma’am go out the window, the rest is soon to foller.”  What he fails to realize, until his conversation with his uncle near the end, is that the world has always been this way.  People from older generations have always viewed societal change as bad, thinking that our country is “going to hell in a handbasket.”  What his uncle makes clear to him is that his generation felt the same way, and the generation before that, and the generation before that.  Whether or not society actually is getting worse and worse, people have always thought that.   You can’t stop what’s coming.  No one ever has. 
            After some time has passed, and Bell has retired, we see in the last scene both Bell’s acceptance of these things, and ultimately death itself.  The last monologue of the movie is Bell recounting two dreams about his father that metaphorically represent this acceptance of death, and, in my humble opinion, it is some of most brilliant and haunting writing of any movie of this decade.  Read it, think about it, then go watch the movie again, as I am about to do.  You won’t be disappointed.
             Alright then. Two of 'em. Both had my father in 'em . It's peculiar. I'm older now then he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he's the younger man. Anyway, first one I don't remember too well but it was about meeting him in town somewhere, he's gonna give me some money. I think I lost it. The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin' through the mountains of a night. Goin' through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin'. Never said nothin' goin' by. He just rode on past... and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin' fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. 'Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there….and then I woke up.
-Oh, and while we're at it, top-5 villains of the 2000's:
1. The Joker  (Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight)
2. Anton Chigurh  (Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men)
3. Bill the Butcher (Daniel-Day Lewis, Gangs of New York)
4. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington, Training Day)
5. Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator)

I know I probably missed some good ones here so let me know yours!


Mr. Weaver said...

Thank you Adam. I am right there with you when it comes to the old "the ending sucked" complaint. Can't wait for number 1 (or all 3 of them, if this is going where I'm expecting).

Taylor said...

I remember watching this movie in the theater for the first time and I looked at Jarrett halfway in and said "Best. Villain. Ever." (I will say I think he's better than the Joker. Sorry Heath.)

Awesome, AWESOME choice. Definitely an all-time favorite for me too.