24 November, 2007

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men is a hard movie to review. What do I mean, you ask? For example, I will buy this movie on DVD, but I'm not sure I'll ever watch it again. I simply must own this movie and want the director to know someone out there thought it was worth the $10 and another $15 too. I just don't know whether I could sit through it again. It's that intense.

Reviewing most movies, you have to dance around plot spoilers. Not so much with NCfOM. I could tell you the whole plot, and not feel too badly about doing so. This movie is not about plot. It's the ambience I don't want to spoil, the feelings the movie creates as it goes from point A to point B.

I think I can safely say this. NCfOM is a profoundly disturbing movie. If you don't like to be disturbed by movies, then write this one off and enjoy the rest of this review. If you don't mind violence and some of the thoughts and feelings that go along with that, then maybe you should watch the move yourself before reading any more. RottenTomatoes's critics gave NCfOM a 95% rating and the public gave it 90%. Those are some wicked-high numbers for a mass opinion site, and I would call them underrated. The movie is storytelling par excellance.

==== Here there be spoilers ====

For those of you who remain, and those of you who returned to talk about the movie, here's my take on this one.

I liken NCfOM to a 2-hour chase scene done at a cowboy's rambling, steady gait. Everything happens in slow, cowboy motion. And somehow that keeps you from tiring of the suspense. The modern chase scene is packed with harrowing close calls, loud explosions, flashing lights and a hundred other moments of fear. But those chase scenes fatigue me and seem to go on and on and on. After a relatively short while, I just want them to end. By doing the entire chase in NCfOM at a panicky saunter they increased my hunger for every grain of sand to fall through the hourglass.

There is a scene where you see the bad guy's feet casting a shadow under the door. And then those feet walk away. And then the lights go out. You knew it was going to happen from the moment it began, and still they tell the story at their own pace. The whole scene could have been done in 15 seconds. It probably takes over a minute, and feels like a quarter hour. I was gesturing wildly the whole time, because I just could not stand to sit there and do nothing. I was literally on the edge of my seat, and that does not happen often.

But the biggest thing about this movie is the delivery of its message.

I am fed up with the Anne Rice/Quentin Tarantino thing. All their movies explore evil as wrapped in lovely cinematography, dramatic passion, and high sympathy for those driven to act out the lusts they cannot defeat. It is what I call the beautiful portrayal of evil. I hope there's a better term for it, but that's the best I can do.

They show us evil, and call it evil just as they should, but they give it a pomp and circumstance welcome into the room. They rain flourishes and glory all around it, though not directly on it, as they warn us of the badness of the whole affair. They present the evil man bedecked in chains, but in their stories he steps out from a strech limo for a red carpet entrance into the 5-star restaurant at which they've arranged for us to learn about him, about evil.

It's the conflict between presentation and message that gets me. The message of their movies is "this is bad," but the presentation says, "and don't you wish you could get you some of this?"

NCfOM does no such thing.

The movie's three primary characters are evil, bad and good respectively, with no mixing of the three. The evil is evil to the core. The bad is just foolish. The good has no hidden evil streak against which to spend the movie wrestling. In this, the characters are true to form from beginning to end.

And now we get to real spoilers so, seriously, if you are going to see the movie - tune out now. I'm going to blow the whole message of the movie here, and you really don't want to hear this.

The point of the movie is one with which only a Christian can honestly disagree. It is that American society has lost. The evil has won, and there's no more point in fighting it. Bad, the movie shows, cannot even oppose evil and win, much less good. Good never even gets a chance to try. Evil is relentless, overpowering, and victorious at every turn.

NCfOM is absolutely the best feel-bad movie I've ever seen.

And it accomplishes what no Anne Rice or Quentin Tarantino movie could ever hope to accomplish. It makes the audience walk out wondering how to fight evil, how to win, how to find the courage to stand up against the times, or at least how to be good enough to stay out of evil's way. When you are done with this movie, you don't want any part of evil, and while you may fear to fight it, you know opposing it is the only answer.

Lastly, NCfOM is an art film.

The message of NCfOM is delivered in crushingly understated moves. Most of the true violence happens just off-screen - not all of it, they're not afraid of blood - but so much of it that you're kept on the edge of your seat for 2 solid hours. So many things are left unsaid as to astound. At one point, you only know one victim is dead because the possible killer checks his boots for blood. It's a brutal scene, but you didn't see a thing.

I have to find a real cine-buff's review, but I think the movie used every device in moderation. There's a 1 minute space at the very beginning in which only 6 words are spoken. The same three words are uttered by two of the three main characters. It's a powerful device, and since the whole movie has so few words (it has to have one of the lowest dialogue counts I've ever seen), it's that much more powerful. But I never saw the device used again. There were dozens of such tricks spread throughout the movie, and none too thick or too thin.

Anyway, I pretty much stink at movie reviews so I don't know how helpful or not this was to anyone. I just know I liked the movie, and highly recommend it to the right people.


Milly said...

Sounds like a good one.

tari said...

Wow. Great review. And I read it all...I just couldn't resist. Still not sure that I want to see this, but your take on it really express how powerful it is. Thanks. :)

Weekend Fisher said...

Now I want to see it -- even after I read all the spoilers. In fiction, I'll take Frodo's answer: befriend evil, even though it's going to betray you. Gondor can't defeat Mordor -- they're too much alike.

Pete of the Tribe said...

Great review, Codepoke. I think Cormac McCarthy (author of the book, NCOM) is among the five or six best American writers, and while I haven't seen the film yet, from everything I hear and read (esp. in this review), the Coen brothers did justice to the novel. My takeaway from the book: Evil exists, and it is gaining ground.

codepoke said...

I'm honored by the visit, Pete. Thanks! (For my regulars, Pete is the tennis genius/journalist who rides herd at TennisWorld.)

Agreed on your take. I think the movie says the same thing, with nary a drop of soft soap.

creig bryan said...

Nice review, codepoke.
I don't think you spoiled anything. I intend to see the movie.

Keep Smiling