No Country for Old Men

I haven't been out to the movies in over a month. Is it just me, or does this feel like an extended drought in terms of quality entertainment coming out of Hollywood? I'd like to see Appatow's Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but I usually don't shell out for light comic fair. I put it in the queue and wait for it on DVD (though Knocked Up was really good). Street Kings and Baby Mama are films I'll watch, but they don't compel me to go to the theater.

So I'll hit rewind and pontificate on one of the better technical films I've seen in a long while. The Coen brothers know how to create suspense. They are also sensational at framing a scene. And they excel at pacing a film. No Country for Old Men is a fine example of these talents, and I think it deserves all of the critical accolades it has received.

I'm going to substitute the film into our criticism course at the college. Sorry Memento. You're great, but not quite this great.

The performances are stellar across the board in this gem. And if we're to believe the adage that the lion's share of direction is coaching performances, then we have to call these guys great.

Brolin's Llewelyn Moss is a compelling underdog. Brolin establishes a really appealing form of pathos with the audience in his portrayal of a no-nonsense everyman who blunders into a fortune. He makes some mistakes (as most of us would). He has some great luck (as most of us hope we would). He manages to stay a step ahead of pathological Anton Chigurh in a way that we come to admire, however clunky it may be. He's likable and competent and he ultimately pays with his life because he's not quite up to the challenge that his adversary represents.

Close, but no cigar.

Oh, and that adversary? Bardem is very, very good. If you liked his turn here, go look at Before Night Falls. He can flat out act, and his turn here will live in critical infamy. I think critics will both refer to the actor and the character whenever they want to measure an antagonist that represents pure evil. I love his soliloquies in this film. His heavy-breathed diction and blank-slate demeanor add menace to the scenes in a way that you can feel. I mean, your skin physically crawls. And his chosen weapon? Don't get me started on that thing. Crazy scary.

Kelly Macdonald is good as Carla Jean Moss. I'm sad that she turned into collateral damage.

But the film is about Tommy Lee Jones (a national treasure, if you ask me) and his turn as aging Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. This movie is about him (and it becomes clear in the third act, in the exchange he shares with his old man). Don't mistake that. The ingenuity of the Coen brothers' vision is that the bulk of the film, the cat-and-mouse between Moss and Chigurh, only serves the story in underlining the issues of man's fallibility and utility in the changing face of his mortality. And I can't think of an actor that can better pull this off than Jones. He was also very good in the underwhelming In the Valley of Elah. The man can act, and he seems to only get better with age.

The Coens make the setting come alive here. They do a great job of showing ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The film is great, and I give it a solid 'A' grade.

So what can we look forward to? Well, this comes out soon. I thought the critical reception of the first installment was a little harsh. I liked the performances and found it a solid adaptation of the book (the problem in this genre is comparing anything to Jackson's LOTR films--don't do it!). If my memory serves me, this was one of my favorite books in Lewis' series.

Anybody see The Golden Compass? I'd love some input on it...

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