No Country For Old Men – Or Movies With Plots And Endings

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

Anton Chigurh with his cattle shockerI didn’t get this movie. I wanted to. And I was fully engaged as I watched the film. However, by the “end” of this film, the only way I knew it was over was by lights in the cinema coming up.

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.

Spoiler AlertAnd 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.


7 Comments

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-4">
    Travis Etling

    I agree with everything you said herey Jason, and CM is one of my favorite authors and the Coens are one of my favorite filmmakers – I was really excited and then disappointed by this film.

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    Orv

    Good review. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t offer any help in getting it. It sounds like they were just trying to make a movie that totally defied conventions because they hadn’t done that before. But I guess I’ll have to watch it to know for sure. Honestly, I’ve always thought their work was overrated.

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-8">

    I believe what they were attempting was the same tongue in cheek portrayal of middle Americans that they pulled off in _Fargo_ and _Raising Arizona_. The source of the humor is that they (we) are able to deal with horrible situations, killing sprees, and so forth, with the same type of mom-and-pop outlook on life they (we) use to deal with an ice cream social. It is rather remarkable, if you ever notice it.

    Like other movies by the same writers, it is full of people who seem too ordinary to be in a movie. There are neither villains nor innocents. The writers use simple, decent characters to show that human beings are neither simple nor decent.

    In Fargo, the killers are humiliated in the end of the movie by being lectured in a squad car by a woman who could just as easily by a grade school teacher. In this movie, Tommy Lee Jones describes his admiration for older lawmen who were so compentent that they could do their jobs without a firearm, and laments that his society starting going downhill when people stopped saying “please” and “thank you”.

    What it leaves the reader with is the chance to see that simple, mild mannered people are often stronger than the most desperate criminals. So get a glimpse of human nature that our TV society doesn’t let us often see.

    One thing that would have made this a better movie would have been if the kids at the end had politely refused the bad guy’s money, and instead, retrieved medical help for him. His whole philosophy was that he looked down on ordinary people and thought they were so stupid that their life was worth no more than a coin flip. Yet, he could have been brought down by two dimwit kids even after the shootouts with these arch criminals and the pissed off Vietnam vet. I thought the message would have been perfectly underscored if it had ended that way.

    I also had a hard time believing the bad guy’s motivations. People either kill for money or because they’re pissed off, and it seemed like he couldn’t decide what he wanted.

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    class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-9">

    Correction- “sir” and “ma’am”

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-10">

    Also, the title seemed to refer to the “country” of the Texas/Mexico border, which had become overrun by drug runners since he had been young, and that these new criminals had more money and people than an aging small town sheriff could handle. The dream Tommy Lee Jones mentioned at the very end meant to him that he had nonetheless stuck out the hardest times, and could join the Old Ones with honor.

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    class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-11">

    Vince-

    Wow, Thanks for that insight! You definitely mentioned some things that I had not thought of concerning this film, especially that dream, thank you! But again, like so many people I know who tried to explain this film to me, had to reference others films to put this story in it’s proper context. I really should read the book now, but I bet I will understand the film even less after that.

    Orv-

    Thanks for posting. I encourage everyone to see this film! And every other film we talk about on this blog!

    Travis –

    Thanks for posting. Please send me any other films you want to talk about! I bet you could start a whole Coen Brother’s thread!

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    class="comment byuser comment-author-nicole-p even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-10659">

    Follow more discussion of this article here: http://moviesididntget.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=18

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