NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: An American Classic by The Coen Bros!

2007/2008 will go down in the books as a FANTASTIC YEAR for films, possibly the best year in a decade, with Hollywood cranking out intelligent, edgy and engrossing films; that entertain, and perhaps do a little bit more.

Hollywood has, reinvented themselves in the last couple of years from just a maker of popcorn eye-candy and summer action flicks, to a maker of films that resonate.

Even the supposed popcorn movies being so much more, I AM LEGEND being a genre defying flick, and one of the most impressive and engrossing Blockbusters I’ve seen in years. And 300 much to my surprise, being a visually and emotionally rousing film, fantastic work by relative unknown Zack Snyder.

And even RAMBO, dealing in gross extremes of war and violence, has something to say, something subtle, and profound to say (hearkening back to the first film) about its genre and its time.

So more than ever before we are getting films… willing to address through fiction, the disturbing factual times we live in.

And while Hollywood still has its share of turn off your brain Ridley Scott films, for every one of those you are now also getting, a CHILDREN OF MEN or a BABEL.

And this is due in large part to a daring new crop of directors, many of them South American, who bring a distinctive understanding of the edges of liberty… to their films. Guillermo Del Toro comes to mind. As does Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of BABEL, AMORES PERROS, and 21 GRAMS fame. And Alfonso Cuaron of the phenomenal CHILDREN OF MEN.

But not to be undone by the new kids on the block, there are American Directors aplenty with things to say… and wonders to show you.

Chief among them… Joel and Ethan Coen of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN fame.

I was able to catch this flick before it departed the big screen, and I’m glad I did.

Since their breakthrough on the cinematic stage, Joel and Ethan Coen have proven themselves highly stylized, highly original, and highly idiosyncratic filmmakers.

And all three traits are in fine display in their latest, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Ostensibly a thriller, with knuckled edge moments of true menace, of uncomfortable menace, that hearkens back to such Masterpieces as BLOOD SIMPLE.

But this is far less a straight thriller, and it plays at some point, fast and loose, becomes cold, and reflective and withdrawn from seemingly the very subject of the movie, a film that becomes ever more withdrawn from itself. The wheres and whens and whys become afterthoughts as everything begins falling away.

There’s a wonderful aloofness to the movie, that kicks in to high gear when what should have been the climax of the movie, happens completely off stage; it is a bold decision, one that I can’t say is completely successful. Basically severing the emotional heart of the movie, the character, who to this point, is the one the audience identifies with.

So it’s a jarring moment to lose the star of the movie in such an offhand way. It is not the choice any number of directors would make. The Coens strip us of a true climax to the film, instead the film simply winds down… like a clock, or old men, or like life.

Like life too harshly lived, and arguably… too poorly.

The film ends, and only in reflection do we realize, the climax, like our best years, as individuals and as a nation, have passed us by, while we were making other plans.

It’s a courageous if not entirely successful way to end a film, and while I understand it is in keeping with the book, pulling such a structure off in a book and a film, are two very different hurdles.

Other filmmakers would have chosen a more conventional path, but not the Coens. And they don’t hand you anything in this movie, the fact that the movie takes place in the 70s, culminating in one last murder in 1980. They leave it for you to piece together. Much of the movie is like this, the Coens setting you in the tail-end of the storm, and you have to find your own way home.

Joel and Ethan Coen, with this movie reaffirming that they are Filmmakers that are very much willing to challenge and experiment with the medium. This is not a crowd-rousing film, the Coens want something other than your adrenaline, they want your angst.

And with this film they get it.

There’s something gratifying in knowing that three decades after this film duo first burst onto the scene, that they remain, in dangerous times, still among our most insightful and dangerous filmmakers.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is accomplished film-making, that will stay with you long after you have left the theater; and will only grow in esteem, the more you watch it, and the more you succumb to its structure and its strengths. Highly recommended!

One neat side note: Long before the book was ever optioned for a movie, and of course before the Coens were attached, a reviewer wrote the following about Cormac McCarthy’s book:

“Cormac McCarthy’s latest novel, “No Country for Old Men,” gets off to a riveting start as a sort of new wave, hard-boiled Western: Imagine the Coen brothers doing a self-conscious riff on Sam Peckinpah and filming a fast, violent story about a stone-cold killer, a small-town sheriff and an average Joe who stumbles across a leather case filled with more than $2 million in hot drug money.”-
-No Country For Old Men
Fiction. By Cormac McCarthy 309 pages. $24.95. Alfred A. Knopf.
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani

Wow Ms. Kakutani was evidently dead-on, or maybe her review got some producers thinking. :). Just thought that was nifty.