Thursday, January 3, 2008

And on to the Oscar contenders...(Part 2)

The two most immediately noticeable things about the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men are its quietness and seering, carefully depicted violence. On both counts, the film is unrelenting, and deserving of recognition for its boldness.

About five minutes in, you think, "Isn't there going to be any music in this?" And when you realize there isn't, ever - except for a bit of a live song, which provides perhaps the film's singular (albeit very dark) belly laugh - it's striking. The Coens have created another singular world, and the West Texas openness, casually eloquent dialogue, and colorful local characters of Cormac McCarthy's novel fit them to a tee. All three leads (Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem, who, as Anton Chigurh, has created a creepy icon on par with Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter) give commanding performances, and the movie is so beautifully shot - by longtime Coens cinematographer Roger Deakins - and edited that it somehow manages to be simultaneously slow and action-packed.

The meandering plotline involves the discovery of a standoff gone wrong, a suitcase filled with two million dollars left at the scene, and a psychopathic hitman on a bloody road trip to track it down, but the way the story is told is more important than what actually happens. From its initially baffling conclusion to its philosophizing protagonist and antagonist, respectively, No Country seems to try and say something profound about inevitability and chance, but mostly offers "the world is a bad place" as its statement - not that that's not a worthy observation. Still, the sparse atmosphere rendered so uniquely in No Country is the picture's real takeaway.

Grade: B+

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