Saturday, November 10, 2007

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: Coen Brothers brilliance, aka Death and Texas

site | trailerSaw NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN tonight and I was smiling almost the whole way through. It is some kickass Coen Brothers greatness. A FARGO, relocated, regionalized, even, for Texas. Ray explained to me a bit about the strength of the author of the original novel, Cormac McCarthy, and I'm definitely gonna hafta start eating up his stuff on my commute.

Gotta say, this has been a brilliant week of moviegoing. Caught EXILED on Wednesday night with In, Monette, Joe, and Ray. Saw AMERICAN GANGSTER on Thursday night with In. And tonight, COUNTRY, with a grand crew: In, Jen, Tricia, Kim and Jeff, Heather and Jason, Larry, and Ray. Ray tagged in for Joe, who was along for dinner earlier, but couldn't make it to the late show.

The film follows a regular good 'ol Texas cowboy, Llewelyn Moss, played sure and steady by Josh Brolin (between this and AMERICAN GANGSTER, he's having a damn good week!). While out in the plains, hunting, he comes across a blood trail that doesn't belong to any wounded game. It leads him to the scene of an apparent drug deal gone bad. In the aftermath are a dozen dead bodies, a truckbed loaded with dope, and a suitcase full of money. Llewelyn carries off the cash, intent on securing early retirement for his wife Carla Jean. Unfortunately, as the movie's tagline says, "There are no clean getaways."

Sent to recover the goods are several gangs of thugs with machineguns, and one cold-blooded, merciless, methodical, killer, basically, Death, with long hair, blue jeans, and vacant-to-wild eyes, played with inexhaustible menace by Javier Bardem. Tommy Lee Jones plays the down home Texas sheriff who's two steps behind the ensuing carnage. Happy times follow.

Jen put it very well when she said she couldn't recall another big screen villain whose presence was so relentlessly scary. About halfway thru the film, I realized that this guy was an equivalent of a curse, from the JU-ON/GRUDGE films, given flesh and blood form. Unstoppable, amoral, governed by unearthly and inhuman rules. More a force than a person.

He's the freakin smoke monster on the LOST island.

Javier Bardem is freakily good at playing the role of a light-sucking black hole. Quite a change from the last role I saw him in, from GOYA'S GHOSTS, a corrupt and transparently opportunistic intellectual bishop (or whatever) of the Spanish Inquisition, who plays at being an untouchable spiritual and then revolutionary leader, but under it all is a selfish, unprincipled, dirty dog of a man.

(I forget if I ranted on that film already, but given everything that it was supposed to be, and should have been, w a cast including Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Bardem, well, it was a turd. Bleah.)

Llewelyn does a remarkable job staying ahead of the hired guns, for longer than he had any right to expect, but over the long run, he can't outlast Death, who deals from one hand with a pneumatic piston, capable of punching holes in both steel locks and human flesh, and from the other with a deadly *silenced* shotgun.

The FARGO-ness of the film is pretty strong, once you adjust your brain to register it, like looking at one of those 3-d pattern pictures, y'know? It's in the characters, the stark setting and region, the patterns of the amateur outlaw, the professional killer, and the keen cop-detective. The Pepe Le Pew-ness of the pursuit, at many levels. The quiet, silent, building of tension, leading to violent release. I also tasted a little bit of THE PLEDGE, in Tommy Lee's trailing of the killer, and as I said, the unlikely flavor of JU-ON. That's just my so-called brain, y'know.

But it's not derivative. This story and its characters are OF themselves, y'know? They're not bizarro knockoffs. The comparisons happen to be there. That I can see and make them is more revealing of what the C Brothers appreciate and know they excel at than any indication of, I dunno, pandering or shortcut taking.

Ray confirmed that much of the dialogue seemed to be lifted faithfully from the original writing. I can immediately see why the Coen Brothers chose to adapt this. The words that come forth from the characters are already uncannily Coen-esque. Short, playful, dialogue, between wife and husband, recapping their days to one another, and even between sheriff and deputy, reconstructing the timeline of a crime while sorting thru the aftermath. Matter-of-fact delivery, at times, almost without emotion, with just about every line delivering information about the subject at hand, but also about the history and relationship between the two speakers. That sort of thing always knocks me out. The matching of the Coen Brothers cinematic skills with McCormac's story is a conjunction of stars.

A quick doff of the hat to the animals in the film. I've gotta say, this film features some amazing canine acting and stuntwork. I can't give up the details here, but I think you will be suitably impressed and aghast.

A beautiful shot...

Death has tracked the money to a room in a motor inn. He gets a room of his own to set up shop. We see him take off his boots, and then pick up his weapons, gas cannister in one hand, silenced shotgun in the other. Next, there's a cut to him padding stealthily outside the rooms. The shot is framed centered on his socked, shoeless feet pacing in measured steps on the concrete, flanked on either side by the silenced muzzle of the shotgun and the butt end of the air tank. This is Death, coming for you. Feckin cool.

Speaking of. I should see about closing my eyes and getting some shuteye. There's a lot of Good in this movie, particularly if you are a Coen Brothers admirer. I may hafta revisit it in a future spoilery post. Overall, it was a fun night w some loveable characters... and that was just dinner before the movie! Heh.

Except for some non-optimal seating arrangements, it was a good night out w a fun crew and an amazing film. Has me even more wired than usual, I guess. Frack, it's almost 4.30am. Bleah.

Keep on keepin on, friendo~

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