by Jason A. Hill
No Country for Old Men, USA, 2007
Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Based on the Novel No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
And for a film that wins Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor, I really expected a lot more. Of course I saw the movie before all of that.
No Country for Old Men is full of excitement, suspense, and action, but I got the feeling that there was something deeper going on under the surface and I was expecting some revelation at the end. But what I got was that feeling you get when you’re at a big concert and the headlining band comes out on stage two hours late then leaves the stage after one song as the lead singer throws the mic down and flips off the crowd. At first, everyone thinks it’s a great gesture, but after a while they start to feel conned.
And what’s with that Anton Chigurh? I mean, scary? Sure. But he was scary more in the Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers kind of way. Some sort of super-villain, run amok in Simpleville. I wasn’t buying it. All the bloody theatrics seemed hardly necessary or practical. Now, I know human beings can be irrational and do some evil things, but this guy was just over the top, killing everyone in his path, randomly – and at times against his own best interests – except for a couple of kids at the end, but I’ll get to that.
I’m not one to argue against pushing the boundaries for art, but I don’t think this film really stands up as a great example because most of what people say they like about this film comes as a comparison to films with more conventional structures. This means that this film can’t stand on its own. It’s like looking at a framed blank canvas and giving credit to the artist for being so bold as to not have done what everyone else was doing by actually painting something.
The story is structured around three (or four if you include Woody Harrelson’s 15 minutes) equally confusing and irresolute characters. None of them seems to make a profound point rather than to point out the pointlessness of trying. The women in this film are played pretty well within their characters’ limits by Kelly Macdonald, Beth Grant, and Tess Harper. But in the end all these characters amount to are helpless bystanders who become victims of their failure to understand what’s happening around them.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Ed Tom Bell, a character you’ve seen before in other movies and one Jones plays well, but he’s essentially the fool of this story, hence the title. Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, who one would assume is the main character but a lot of his screen time and substance is split with Ed Tom Bell and Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem. And besides all these characters having first names, you’re never sure from what point-of-view you are seeing this story.
The ultimate travesty of this film comes at the end, an ending that reminds me so much of Se7en (1995), where the evil of the antagonist prevails and the protagonist discovers only a convoluted conclusion in epilogue. Ed tells his wife about a dream he has involving his father that sounds like the horrible side effect of an expired medication, or maybe Ed is trying to tell his wife about his peyote habit. And dare I say it, then it really gets bizarre. As Anton drives away from his latest senseless murder victim, he gets in a random car accident. As he gets out of his wrecked car, he encounters two kids who he spares and even rewards for their help, then staggers off into the sunset. Huh?
I’ve never read the book by Cormac McCarthy, but I feel like if indeed he felt that this is no country for old men, maybe he never set foot inside a multi-billion-dollar board room, where I assure you there will be nothing but old men. As a matter of fact, with the exception of this past election, you could say that this country has been pretty much run by old men. So I guess from the start I really don’t understand what they are getting at.
I mean I understand that people get too old to perform a job, especially one as difficult as law enforcement, but I happen to have a lot of respect for my elders and the knowledge they pass on. It just seems a strange, depressing, and cynical view that all this story would amount to is getting old and losing touch, if that is all he and the Coens were going for. When I talk to most of my friends about this movie, I get a sense that they appreciate the film for more of what it wasn’t than what it was, a film that breaks all the traditional structures of films they had seen in the past and completes its own cerebral conclusion: “Shit Happens.”
Jason A. Hill is the Founder, Owner and Editor In Chief of Movies I Didn’t Get.com. He is a film critic and writer of articles and film reviews covering a variety of genres and film news that have been syndicated to many sites in the film blogosphere. He specializes in independent film in the US and Asia.
For more information please contact Jason at JasonAHill@MoviesIDidn’tGet.com.