Jump to content

No Country for Old Men (2007)


Recommended Posts

FWIW, the last time I saw Fargo, I didn't get a sense of "optimism" at all. Instead, I was profoundly aware that all the various characters were trapped within their various spheres and none of them could understand the others. Even the Frances McDormand character is more "innocent" (by which I mean that she does not understand, and cannot understand, the people who do not fit into her frame of mind) than "good". I agree, though, that the film was more "real" than a lot of the Coens' other films -- if only to keep up the ruse that the film was based on a true story.

As for Tarantino, it has never occurred to me to say that the characters in his films are "puppets" on "strings". If anything, my complaint has been that he plays all the characters -- or all the characters play him -- even when he isn't actually in front of the camera. "Puppets" implies that the characters have no will or volition or inner workings of their own; I think the characters in Tarantino films DO have all these qualities, but they are often identical to the qualities that Tarantino tries to project for himself. To put this another way: "Puppets" implies that the characters are not animated by anything external, but are pushed around by external forces (including a story's creator), and I must say I DO get a sense that the characters in Tarantino films are animated by something internal, even if it is their creator that they have internalized.

Maybe that's an ultra-subtle distinction, and maybe I'm crazy for making it, but that's how it seems to me.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 202
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Even the Frances McDormand character is more "innocent" (by which I mean that she does not understand, and cannot understand, the people who do not fit into her frame of mind) than "good".

She is both innocent and good. Innocent, because she's genuinely shocked by the behavior of the murderers (Her classic line: "There's more to life than a little money, ya know. Doncha know that?"). Good, because she's virtuous, compassionate, and exceedingly inviolable to the evil around her.

And yet, after witnessing so much wickedness day after day, she's still willing to bring a child into the world

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

Link to post
Share on other sites
I can accept this as a rationalization of their peculiar (and highly stylized) aesthetic, yet I still feel as though the majority of their characters lack spontaneity. No one seems to be moving of their own accord; the puppet strings are always visible. (This is also an accusation commonly leveled against Quentin Tarantino.)

This is a criticism that I just don't see. It's lobbied often enough that I can appreciate that it exists for others, but it doesn't register for me. Or maybe I see it, but don't agree that it's detrimental to their work. Certainly their films are immensely precise in just about every detail, from the mise-en-scene down to the dialogue (this is apparent in Fargo, as well. There's the story of Stormare saying "pancake house" and the Coens correcting him that it's "pancake's house". Stormare said he thought it was just a mistake; the Coens' response -- "there are no mistakes in our scripts"), but I don't think that negatively affects their work. Their presence is always felt during their pictures, but, to me, this doesn't ruin the organicity of their films anymore than the same quality affects Stanley Kubrick's work. It's just a different mode of expression than a more sprawling, improvisational style seen in the work of filmmakers like Altman or Cassavetes.

This, of course, is crucial to the film's greatness. The Coens' scrupulous attention to detail (with special attention paid to Minnesotan dress, cuisine, and verbiage) for once did not feel like mere ritual but had a connection to real life, and consequently moved me as no previous film of theirs had. Since I hold genuine emotion in higher regard than practically anything else in movies, I have no misgivings about hailing Fargo as their greatest achievement. A strong case can also be made for it being the funniest, most thematically rich, best-acted, best-made film in the Coen canon, as well as the most optimistic (or rather least pessimistic) about human nature.

To each his own, I suppose. The Coen films that exist in present day (or near-present day) have always seemed to me a little flat, relative to their other work. They aren't as good at simply documenting reality as they are at creating alter-universes and populating them with characters imbued with recognizable humanity but nevertheless distanced from the real world -- sort of creating a cine-literate dialogue amongst themselves and the audience while simultaneously crafting a very human work filled with very human emotion (I have no problem seeing this world mirrored in the stylized cinematic universes they so love to build). Their period pieces free them up to explore this gift of theirs, whereas they seem obligated to keep at least one foot firmly in reality with their contemporary work, and I think they become stifled creatively as a result.

And, to me, every superlative you credited to Fargo is, with the exception of optimism, better attributed to Miller's Crossing, which I feel is the absolute apex of their art.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I admire Raising Arizona and Barton Fink above all of the others. One seems just brilliantly inspired as zany comedy with a heart, while the other is a look into the abyss that is as troubling as it is subversively funny. It's also one of the most intelligent and brave films about art that I've seen.

Blood Simple, Fargo, and Miller's Crossing would be the second tier for me... all dark and brutal, reveling in character idiosyncracy. (As I've said before, I don't think it's condescension or mechanical... I think it shows that they take a giddy sort of pleasure in exaggerated idiosyncracy for the love of it... which I'd also say about Chuck Jones.)

And then I love The Big Lebowski and The Hudsucker Proxy, both of which are exaggerated and zany for the love of it. Both have sequences as inspired as anything in Raising Arizona, and both have scenes that feel a bit too forced for me.

The Man Who Wasn't There has its strengths, and so do O Brother and Intolerable Cruelty.

The Ladykillers is the only one be reluctant to give a thumbs' up.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Nathaniel wrote:

: I guess it all depends on how you read those scenes between Marge and her husband.

Yup. If memory serves, I was particularly struck by a parallel between a scene of Marge and her husband sitting in bed and watching TV, and another scene of the bad guys and their hookers sitting in bed and watching TV. Maybe I'm misremembering that, but it was something of that sort which got me thinking about the "separate spheres" -- that, and the scene where Marge speaks to Stormare in the police car.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Their period pieces free them up to explore this gift of theirs, whereas they seem obligated to keep at least one foot firmly in reality with their contemporary work, and I think they become stifled creatively as a result.

The way I see it, Fargo's modern-day setting introduced a number of healthy restrictions that held their more indulgent tendencies in check while simultaneously allowing them to retain their uniqueness. It also somehow comes across as a more personal project for them. (Maybe it's the fact that they're both native Minnesotans?)

The "cine-literate dialogue" theory is a compelling one, for sure, and yet even some of the country's most erudite film critics have trouble getting past square one (see Jonathan Rosenbaum's consistently derogatory reviews, which repeatedly reference this perceived smugness and cynicism).

And, to me, every superlative you credited to Fargo is, with the exception of optimism, better attributed to Miller's Crossing, which I feel is the absolute apex of their art.

As far as I'm concerned, Miller's Crossing is a serious contender for best Coen film ever. I was too young to see it when it first came out, but I caught it on VHS several years later, and seem to recall it being powerful, if a bit chilly. I think it's about due for a reappraisal.

Titus, what do you suppose went wrong with their last couple of films? Are you, like me, waiting for the Coens to "wise up" and make another masterpiece?

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

Twitter     Letterboxd

Link to post
Share on other sites
The way I see it, Fargo's modern-day setting introduced a number of healthy restrictions that held their more indulgent tendencies in check while simultaneously allowing them to retain their uniqueness. It also somehow comes across as a more personal project for them. (Maybe it's the fact that they're both native Minnesotans?)

I think it's worth pointing out for clarification that I'm not really trying to criticize Fargo, which I regard about as highly as the general critical consensus. I think it's a great picture, it's just that my opinion of some of their other work is even higher.

I do agree that it's more personal for them than the majority of their pictures, but I'm not sure it's because of the setting. I think it may have more to do with the character of Marge Gunderson, who is a mouthpiece of sorts for something they seem to feel deeply about. The juxtaposition of her unglamorous but happy and content life with these petty criminals desperately reaching out for more is a powerful one, and it makes her final speech to Stormare particularly affecting. I also think it helps that the character was played by Joel's wife -- if I remember right, they said they wouldn't have made the film if she didn't want to play Gunderson.

The "cine-literate dialogue" theory is a compelling one, for sure, and yet even some of the country's most erudite film critics have trouble getting past square one (see Jonathan Rosenbaum's consistently derogatory reviews, which repeatedly reference this perceived smugness and cynicism).

I think Rosenbaum is one of the finest critics in America, but he seems to have a short fuse with the Coens. I don't think he's tried to engage their work in the manner that they're intending, as evidenced by the fact that, in his review of Fargo, he strangely cross-checks it against Kieslowski's The Decalogue.

Some people struggle to get past the artificiality in their work, while I think the artificiality is (part of) the point. True, some of their movies are, in part, about other movies, but they're nevertheless fascinating in this respect. There's a reason Ed Crane exists in a classic world of film noir in The Man Who Wasn't There yet is, basically, the complete antitheses of the majority of the protagonists in those classic Hollywood pictures; or that there are so many shots of Tom Reagan in Miller's Crossing sitting alone with a look of sad contemplation inbetween bouts of verbal sparring with the other characters in the film; or why an oversized clock and an employee who maintains it (who also happens to be the narrator) feature so heavily and importantly in The Hudsucker Proxy -- I think they probe or investigate the various genres they're interested in, creating something of an essay or commentary on them. Still, they're not just intellectual exercises -- the Coens are able to retain the human element, as well. For some, this juggling act blows up in their face and they fall short on both counts. For me, though, the opposite is true and, when they're at their best, both of these aspects of their films work for me -- which is why I'm so nutty about their best films.

As far as I'm concerned, Miller's Crossing is a serious contender for best Coen film ever. I was too young to see it when it first came out, but I caught it on VHS several years later, and seem to recall it being powerful, if a bit chilly. I think it's about due for a reappraisal.

Definitely revisit it, especially if your only experience with it is via VHS. This is the Coens' most immaculately composed film, so the full-frame cropping really butchers it.

Titus, what do you suppose went wrong with their last couple of films? Are you, like me, waiting for the Coens to "wise up" and make another masterpiece?

*shrug*

Their hearts didn't really seem to be in the films. The scripts were adapted rather than original, as all of their previous films had been. Intolerable Cruelty, if I remember right, was something of a favor to Barry Sonnenfeld, who was originally slated to direct it. I don't know, they feel more like imitations of the Coen Brothers comedies rather than the real thing, and the humor, especially in The Ladykillers, lost any degree of subtlety. They let their love of character idiosyncracy run wild and basically comprise the whole of the characterization in those films and, (again) in The Ladykillers in particular, they seemed to be dumbing their humor down. On top of this, I think it's easier to screw up comedy than drama, so their shortcomings are all the more obvious and uncomfortable. Hopefully they were just ill-advised stabs and commercial success.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 weeks later...

And HERE is the trailer done right.

Hmmm. A face-off at a Texaco station. And then, a moment when the sinister villain puts a gun to the head of a fellow who looks a whole lot like Dubya. Bring on all the students of Political Interpretation 101.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...

Okay, this post is dedicated to Peter Chattaway, who loves to find unlikely connections between films.

No Country for Old Men and Paul Haggis's Oscar-bait feature In the Valley of Elah have a veritable circus of casting connections.

Details here.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, yeah, I saw that post and loved it right away. And I probably won't see either of these films for months.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Apparently there's a new red band trailer available on the film's website, but I can't get it play for some reason.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
Opus, Twitter, Facebook

Link to post
Share on other sites

I watched it, and it's not really worth the effort. It's just a different version of the same trailer, only this one spoils a lot about who lives and who dies. I'd recommend folks avoid it.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...
Darren Hughes:

I'm the wrong person to write about No Country for Old Men. It's exactly the film I was expecting, so I'm not sure why I came away from it so disappointed. The crowd had something to do with my reaction, I'm sure. As with Cronenberg's A History of Violence, which I saw here two years ago, also at the massive Ryerson auditorium, I was surrounded again by viewers who laughed at and applauded the bone breaking and blood splattering. I don't blame them, really. The Coens give Javier Bardim many of the best lines. His ruthless murderer, Anton Chigurh, has an irresistible charisma, which I'm sure will be interpreted as the seductive power of Evil or something. But I just don't really care. It'll win a million Oscars.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The Coens give Javier Bardim many of the best lines.

And thus, they did the work of literary adaptation.

Hmm. I don't expect Hughes to like the film. I'm just saying that Chigurh is made to seem intriguing, it's because he is like that in the book.

Did the audience laugh and clap because they were supposed to? Or was it like Silence of the Lambs, where some of us sit horrified while others celebrate the malevolence and bloodshed?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
Did the audience laugh and clap because they were supposed to? Or was it like Silence of the Lambs, where some of us sit horrified while others celebrate the malevolence and bloodshed?

I really want to lean toward the latter, especially as a fan of both the the Coens and McCarthy. I was drawn to Chigurh during the novel, but never in a "I think he's cool" sort of way. Having watched the various trailers dozens of times, it seems like the Coens aren't making him out to be some wacky antihero. If people are laughing and clapping, that makes me feel sad about the people doing the laughing and clapping.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

It's one of the most faithful literary adaptations I've ever seen. A few adjustments here and there, and the ending is a little different. But it captures McCarthy's voice and style and themes perfectly.

But on the question of "masterpiece" ... well...

I don't think it belongs in the top tier of Coen films (Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Fargo, Miller's Crossing). I realize that Coen fans rarely agree on what qualifies as a top-tier Coen film. But as far as I'm concerned, I'm more impressed when they make movies from their own scripts. Don't get me wrong... No Country is great, and the Coens have done an admirable job of translating McCarthy's book. I guess I'm just more impressed when a director comes up with a great original story of his or her own. It feels as though the Coens made the film because McCarthy's book follows so closely the plots of Blood Simple and Fargo.

When I read the book, I thought it felt like a tribute to the Coens. Thus, it just feels strange to have them go back over so much similar territory. And the movie is, as you might expect, full of subtle references (intentional and unintentional, I suspect) to their previous work. Tommy Lee Jones plays the male Marge Gunderson, always a step behind the storm, musing about how the world's going to hell in a handbasket and he just can't understand it. There are tense scenes involving darkness and headlights in a night pursuit (as in Blood Simple and Fargo). Chigurh slows down on the road for the sole purpose of shooting an animal by the side of the road... just like the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse in Raising Arizona. A camera glides by a counter where someone has been shot, almost exactly as it did in Fargo's parking garage desk. Josh Brolin's performance will make you wonder if Llewellyn is related to The Dude. And when a bewildered bystander says, "Mister, you got a bone stickin' outta your arm," it sounds an awful lot like, "Son, you got a pantie on your head." Frankly, whether or not these are intentional, the self-referencing bugs me. I'd rather see them blaze a new trail.

The cast is fantastic, with one exception (and I'll wait to see if anybody else agrees). There's minor character who's played in a fashion much more over-the-top than the rest, and comes across more as a Saturday Night Live sketch character than a person living in the world of this movie.

The film's most distinct characteristic: It's lack of music. This film stands out as the finest work of sound design the Coens have ever achieved. And Roger Deakins' cinematography is, as we all knew it would be, fantastic.

One of the year's best films? Oh yeah.

One of the Coens' best films? Well, since almost all of them are great (in my estimation), this is a worthy addition to the collection, but no, not one of their very best.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, Jeffrey. Your review reminds me that the Coens' work was treated for so many years -- up until Fargo -- with dismissive remarks about how they were building a style by relying too much on references other films and filmmakers. (EDIT: Just realized that remark sounds like I'm lumping you in with those earlier reviewers; not my intention) Now they're aping their own work!

I've been concerned about this film since finishing the book, realizing what I'm in for. I hope it amounts to something more than a grim look at the dark side of human nature.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to post
Share on other sites

I find a weird sort of hopefulness in McCarthy's book...I can't put my finger on it, but I think it's there. And the Coen's have always had this smirking, joyful aspect to all of their movies, even the darkest of the dark. I'm still looking forward to this movie something fierce, and I realize how grim it may be...but I don't think it's going to wallow entirely in gloom and despair.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It appears that every fear I have about this film may have been realized.

The review is too impressive for limited excerpts. Read the whole thing. The guy

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well... the movie is a perfect adaptation of the tone and character of the novel. So, if your fears about the book are realized by reading it, those fears will be similarly realized by the film.

Personally, I find McCarthy's apocalyptic vision very compelling. It is the voice of a man dying of thirst in the desert, desperate for any glimmer of hope.

As a result, if and when a glimmer appears, it is powerful. And then, how the characters respond when that glimmer appears... or as they think back on it... that is very, very interesting.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, the book was fine but disturbing, as I expected. Obviously, changing the tone of the book for the movie would be all wrong, so I'm OK with that. But if the movie makes me feel the way the book did, I don't see myself singing its praises. Of course, I couldn't get past p. 70 of Blood Meridian, which is supposedly a haunting masterpiece, so what do I know?

I'm hoping the visuals bring something to the story that didn't come across in the book -- an extra dimension that makes me rethink the characters (some of whom I did like in the book, BTW).

It's a silly complaint to lament a faithful adaptation of a bleak novel for being bleak, but I just feel a sense of trepidation about this one.

I loved The Road, which was about more than the dismal circumstances surrounding the characters. In No Country, I'm not sure there's much more.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, Christian, but I got a loud Why does it have to be like this? from the book. Blood Meridian is a ROUGH book, so I don't blame you for not getting far. It's hard to read, for one, and some of the stuff is so harrowing that it scarred me in some ways. But McCarthy's work--to me at least--always seems to question the bleakness, not just accept it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...