Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Country For Old Men

Year: 2007
Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald

You know, I'm probably one of the last people on earth to watch No Country For Old Men, considering the enormous amount of time it took for this film to make it to Malaysian cinemas. Of course, I could have opted for other less legal means to see it, but watching movies shouldn't be about just seeing it per se, it should also be about being in a cinema and experiencing it. It's very old school, but I am old fashioned in a lot of ways, so there.

So anyway, by now you'd know that No Country is the film that won Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and earned several more for Best Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the film revolves around a bag of money and three men chasing each other because of it.

Llewelynn Moss is a man out hunting for deer when he stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone awry in the desert. He finds a bag of money, US$2 million to be exact, and decides to keep it. Before long, he finds himself hunted by Mexican gangsters and a mysterious hitman by the name of Anton Chigurh. Chigurh just isn't any kind of hitman though. He's a psychopath who doesn't think twice about killing anyone in his way, and will not stop in his search for the money.

Meanwhile, the town sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, takes on the case, and tries to piece together where Moss is going and who's after him, to try and save his life and maybe stop the carnage. But it is tough, since Moss is pretty good at running and improvising in order to survive, and Chigurh just keeps on going, gunning down innocent bystanders and even his own employers to get to his quarry.

This is actually the first time I'm watching a product of the Coen brothers, and it's not bad actually. I am aware of the buzz surrounding their previous efforts like Fargo and The Big Lebowski, but had never seen them. So now I get to experience their version of dark humour, and it is quite fascinating. No Country is probably least expected to be funny in any way, but the Coens somehow make it possible. All three protagonists are given just the right dose of humorous lines and unwitting charm, to endear them to the audience instead of coming off as two dimensional. It is in this respect that the Coens deserve the most credit.

Performance wise, Tommy Lee Jones gives a strong performance of a man who tries to do the right thing, but is slowly getting weary of the situations surrounding him. Josh Brolin also does well in his role as the guy who makes one mistake after another, starting with taking the money in the first place, and tries to stay away from making more errors as he goes along. But the one you'll love watching is Javier Bardem as the creepy Anton Chigurh. Chigurh comes off as a cross between The Hitcher's John Ryder and T2's T-1000, with a novel idea on opening locked doors. Even in his quiet demeanor, Bardem gives Chigurh a lot of character by exploring the twisted reasoning behind his murderous spree, in the scenes where he talks to some of his victims before slaughtering them. Bardem truly earned his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

I have heard that a lot of people didn't like how the film ended, and I can concur. It's an anti-climax, and somehow it doesn't feel like a perfect resolution, at least not for me. Films with endings like these are an acquired taste, either you love them or hate them. And I do wish Jones had more to do instead of waxing philosophy for most of his scenes, leaving the action to Brolin and Bardem. Nevertheless, No Country succeeds in telling a story peppered with violence and dark comedy, with superb cinematography and fine performances from its cast.

But I do wonder if it deserves the Best Picture award in the end. I guess I'll have to watch the other nominees first. I think I could relate more to There Will Be Blood, but that's just me. (4/5)

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