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Friday, 21 December 2007

No Country for Old Men

Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian, The Road) isn't the cheeriest of writers at the best of times, while in recent years indie film stalwarts the Coen Brothers have drifted into making lightweight, disposable, and worst of all, forgettable films (remember The Ladykillers? Didn't think so). The Coens once had form when it came to offbeat crime (Blood Simple, Fargo), but the success of their adaptation of McCarthy's relatively lightweight yet still dark andbrooding No Country for Old Men was far from the sure thing it once would have been. Turns out those fears were groundless: not only is this a triumphant return to form for the Coens, it actually marks something of a departure for them in terms of crime drama as they (mostly) reign in their quirky humour to stay true toMcCarthy's bleak lament for a barren place that exists as much in men's hearts as it does the physical world.

It's 1980, and when trailer park resident Llwewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad, complete with a ute full of drugs and a satchel full of cash, he decides to take the money and run. That puts him in the sights of the extremely deadly Chigurh (Javier Bardem in a nightmare-inducing performance), while local sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to put the pieces together.

The film's lean, stripped-back style comes largely from the novel - there are long silent sequences here that simply involve people going about their work, which sometimes results in murder - but its the kind of thing the Coens did brilliantly in their earlier films and they clearly haven't lost the knack. The three lead performances are all amazing: Brolin is perfect as a decent man not sure how over his head he is, Bardem seems like he should be a jokevillain but turns out to be the scariest thing on screen this year, and Jones (who doesn't appear onscreen until half an hour in, but turns out to be the film's central character) continues his recent run of quality work as a worn down man unsure of the worth of his work. There's plenty of sly humour and dry wit on offer, but where the Coen's earlier work would squeeze a note of redemption into the grimmest of events (think of the end of Fargo), this winds up in a way that's both quietly real and totally devastating. This is one of the year's best films.

Anthony Morris

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