Wednesday 6 February 2008

No Country For Old Men

I continue my Cormac McCarthy season with the Coen brothers much nominated adaptation of No Country For Old Men. I haven't read the novel but I understand that this a very faithful filming and it marks a welcome return to grizzly form for the Coen's although I'm not sure that this is quite the masterpiece that some are declaring.

When Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the carnage of a botched drug deal whilst out hunting and finds a case filled with roughly $2million he makes one fatal mistake; to return to the scene later that night with a bottle of water for the one man who was still alive. His car is spotted and he barely escapes from two pursuers but he has now become the prey of a man, Anton Chigurh (a truly terrifying Javier Bardem), who will hunt him down like Death itself armed with a shotgun and heavy silencer and a pneumatic cattlegun, cutting down any who cross his path. Following this trail of bodies is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played with deadpan world-weariness by Tommy-Lee Jones) also trying to find Moss and protect him and his wife.

As you would expect from McCarthy this is a tale filled with men and violence and as you would expect from the Coen brothers it is shot with style and even the odd flash of humour but when you come down to it is there that much seperating this film from, say, The Terminator? Chirgurh's relentless progress is shown to have little consequence, these are bad guys he's killing remember (or if not bad then certainly undeveloped characters who we will find it hard to care about), and just when it looks as though karma will come full circle he walks way from a car crash (albeit with a broken bone protruding through his arm). Yes, there's some philosophical musings along the way but even Terminator 2 managed something similar ('there is no fate but that we make').

It's all in the casting I suppose. Tommy-Lee Jones is excellent; subtle and nuanced. He speaks volumes with that craggy face when in conversation with his Uncle Ellis. 'You can't stop what's comin'. It ain't all waitin' on you. That's vanity', he is told, and having watched Chigurh slaughter both innocent and guilty alike we know exactly what that means. This is the kind of apocolyptic vision familiar from McCarthy's novels but missing is the hope, the mercy, dare I say it the humanity that would make it a convincing parable rather than a high class shoot-em-up.


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