26 August 2008

No Country for Old Men (R)

Last night, after much fanfare, I sat down and watched "No Country for Old Men." What a disappointment.

I love the Cohen brothers, but they really should stick to what they do best — writing their own stories. The movie has many of the same elements we've come to expect from a Cohen Bros flick. From creative ways of killing people to gritty characters that you can't seem to stop watching.

In "No Country for Old Men," the antagonist, Anton Chigurh played by Javier Bardem, gets under my skin in a way I'm not sure if I welcome or shun. Chigurh is definitely the most compelling character, sort of creepy and boyish all at the same time.

"Barton Fink," "Big Lebowski," "Hudsucker Proxy," "Fargo"...
All movies written by Joel and Ethan Cohen, and all rich with deep storytelling. "No Country for Old Men," however, was a screenplay they wrote based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. Their attempt at turning this bloody book into a compelling movie was a disaster fit to keep you sunk down in a pit of despair.

Here's the synopsis:
  • Man runs across the site of a drug deal gone awry.
  • Man takes the money left behind by the dealers and runs.
  • Man returns to the site to help one guy who was barely alive only to discover he's dead.
  • Man is spotted by the dealers' henchman and ends up running across South Texas from a psychopathic killer who wants the money back.
The movie starts out with a monologue, a signature move by the Cohen bros. I love this technique, as it is so rife with the oral tradition. But, that's about as exciting as it gets.

The 2 1/2 hour runtime could easily have been reduced to 1 1/2 hours. Most of the movie seems to rely on the long drawn-out sequences of people staring or walking. If you watch many foreign films, you know the technique. Sometimes the long draw works beautifully, but not in "No Country for Old Men." This movie focuses on bloodshed. The long draw only makes it look as though the Cohen bros are feebly trying to make art out of violence.

I know the tagline for "No Country for Old Men" is "There Are No Clean Getaways," but this movie was a sheer disappointment. Why? SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!!!

Some of the best characters, like Woody Harrelson's Carson Wells, are never quite allowed to live up to their potential. Chigurh kills him off quickly, with no fight, just a simple click of the trigger.

Then there's the protagonist, Llewelyn Moss played by Josh Brolin. For most of the movie, we focus on his escape, his outrage, his attempt at revenge. Then, after watching him in intensely violent scene after violent scene. He's just dead and floating in a hotel pool. It was a bit like watching a movie about the shootout at the OK corral, watching the build up to the famous showdown only to have the camera pan away then return after the fight is over.

With the protagonist dead, you would think the movie's over, right? Nope. Llewelyn's wife, Carla Jean played by Kelly Macdonald, talks to Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by the fabulous Tommy Lee Jones, after her husband's death. She says one line that sums up my sentiments toward the remainder of the movie: "When will it be over?" Then she is killed by Chigurh.

Slowly, Chigurh makes his way out to a car, drives away down a quiet neighborhood street, is T-boned by another car, pays a kid for his shirt to use as a sling, then waddles off down the road.

Cut away to a retired Sheriff Bell, sitting bored at his table and asking his wife if she wants any help with her horses. End movie. WTF!

So, this movie shows no character development, no resolution, no payoff - just a bored retired sheriff who doesn't know what to do with his time and a psychopath wandering free.

Now, I could blame the Cohen bros for poor storytelling, but I know they can do better. I could blame Cormac McCarthy, but I haven't read the novel so I'm not sure if the lame storytelling is his fault or not.

For all the fanfare "No Country for Old Men" received, it is a nearly complete pile of s$%#! If long drawn out scenes and gratuitous violence bother you, don't waste your time on "No Country for Old Men."

My Rating for "No Country for Old Men": 2 out of 5 stars
(Extra points for including the little extra touches in the movie, like naming an auto shop after one of the producers.)

Don't fret, Cohen Bros fans. Joel and Ethan have completed their latest story: "Burn After Reading." It looks like a much better story.

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