DemosNews: No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men
By: HermioneSG

I’m squeamish about violence. That’s what kept me until now from seeing No Country for Old Men. But I was wrong. This is a fascinating type of storytelling, exquisitely made.

Most of the film’s inwardly revealing content occurs within a series of two-person vignettes, like theater, set in closely constricted (usually interior) contexts: Llewelyn and his wife on the couch, not even looking at each other; Llewelyn with a bullet riddled Mexican propped on a truck seat, wanting water; a drug businessman’s accountant about to be erased. The mundane verbal exchange at a gas station check-out counter between the owner and the movie’s antagonist occurs with such pitch perfect understatement, jumpy hesitations, and pouncing retorts as to become absolutely terrifying. High tension, not only at these moments, but throughout the film, hurtles it along. The few exceptions – joking asides by the sheriff, a Mexican mariachi band, a puzzled clothing store vendor, boys bicycling though a leafy suburban street, the hotel hooker’s relaxed banter beside a pool, the mother’s cranky topical complaints about her health and the attention she deserves —render the impending terror more acute by their leaven.

Wide, beautiful, almost un-peopled landscapes alternate with close enclosed encounters, open them up, provide a stage set of “anywhere” for the abstract drama of evil’s recurrent intrusion to unfold. At the hospital there are no nurses or medics buzzing about, just the isolated bed beside which sleuth confronts Llewelyn. At the pharmacy, other persons are present, but serve only as a foil to be distracted and got out of the way like a flock of birds, rather than interacting or noticing as the killer grabs needles and pain killer.

Bravura, sex, musical sound track, flashy effects that are the standard stuff of crime thrillers are virtually absent. Instead, a strange everyday dignity obtains— the workaday realities and mores of life—for the drama to play against. Llewelyn isn’t a criminal to the sheriff, to the gangster's sleuth, to us. He’s a sort of innocent who happens across a big stash of money and wants it to better provide for wife. Compassion spurs him to return with water for the nearly dead Mexican’s lips, although it entangles him unwittingly with danger and death. Multiple scenes of ordinary kindness and propriety weave a backdrop of normalcy—the truck driver with chicken coops, stopping to help a stalled car driver; the fat trailer park manageress guarding her tenant’s privacy; the guy who picks up the hitchhiker; the sheriff’s attention to his wife’s horse.

Llewelyn’s wife emerges as the most fascinating character in the film, the only one who deepens and grows in the course of the drama. When we first meet her, she’s trailer trash, plugged in front of a TV, good for screwing, vague. The extent of her caring and grasp of realities becomes clear as danger ramps up. During the scenes in the car or house with her griping mother, she could be any suburban housewife coping with pesky demands. Speaking to the sheriff on the pay phone, she rises to a heroine trying to save her beloved from himself. By the end, with the killer, past fear, in a dress within a bourgeois setting, she confronts him equal and level headedly, “right” to his “wrong.” It feels almost epic, Life and Caring versus useless Death.

Beside the ripening perspective of the wife, I think the clues to the film are the sheriff’s voice-over musings at the outset, the bolt-shooter contraption of death, the interchange between sheriff and old uncle in the cat ridden shanty somewhere outback, the killer walking off at film end, and the coin flips. The voice-over during the beginning landscape shots speaks of the continuum of societal guardians who try to keep a lid on disorder and violence. Sheriffs in the old days, he says, sometimes didn’t even carry guns. The weird bolt-shooter functions clinically, dropping people like cattle with no thought, twinge or emotion. The sheriff’s wheelchair ridden elder debunks that things are worse now than in the past; greed and crime have always existed, and always there are those who must try to hold it back. The antagonist striding off after the car crash in a leafy Norman Rockwell setting makes clear that this dark force strikes and continues to strike anywhere. His deadpan or slightly leering face throughout the movie and his inexorable advance is terrifying, but it isn’t ferocious—a process rather than a person. The coin flip underscores the existential underpinning of the movie: this is the human condition—life and death, good and bad. Fairness and unfairness are not factors.

Directors: Ethan and Joel Cohen. Llewelyn: Josh Brolin. The killer: Javier Bardem. The sheriff: Tommy Lee Jones. The wife: Kelly Macdonald.

© 2024 HermioneSG of DemosNews

January 13, 2008 at 5:24pm
DemosRating: 4.5
Hits: 2008

Genre: Arts (Reviews)
Type: Critical
Tags: movie, review, film, sheriff, crime, Texas

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