The UnPopular Opinion: No Country for Old Men
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Regardless of the opinion I am about to put forth, I will ever be thankful to the Academy for having the balls to honor a film such as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. To do so showed an expansiveness of thinking and a sense of bravery displayed not nearly as often as we Schmoes might like, and while it hasn't since been the trend-setter we may have hoped for it nonetheless shows that something grim, brutal, and unforgiving can be just as powerful and affective for the Academy as the gooiest of Oscar Bait.
That being said, I don’t think that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN deserved the awards it received. I don’t think it’s all that special of a film, I don’t think that this was the right example of expectation-challenging cinema to honor, and I don’t think that the multitude of accolades it has received are all that indicative of those elements that actually makes this film noteworthy.
"I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, 'O.K., I'll be part of this world.'"
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a very stoic story. Emotion, action, expectation, character interaction – everything is underplayed, and the film’s energy is set to a constant simmer. The environment – this neo-mythic western expanse - is as much a character as any of the flesh and blood sort walking around, the themes and truths that the Coen Bros are attempting to tell in turn as bleached, barren, and unapologetic as the land itself. Which is all well and good, except for the fact that this same stoicism lasts for over two f***ing hours. Tone and the careful construction of atmosphere are of course essential to the telling of any tale. And few writer/directors can craft a specific atmosphere better than the Coens – they’re so good, in fact, that they’re actually too good. At least when it comes to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.
Everything in this film is meticulously constructed, from Carter Burwell’s contribution to the sound design to Tommy Lee Jones’ meditations on life and violence to Anton Chigurh’s methodical pursuit of Llewellyn Moss to those shots that dwell on the mythic landscape. But this control tightens the film so much due to its constant presence over the course of two hours that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN loses momentum, loses energy, and jettisons any sort of potential human resonance in favor of cursory examination of the natures of men and evil as events mechanically rumble to their inevitable end. I do understand the need to take the time to establish this story’s mood and adequately serve these very particular characters, and you will never hear me say that the Coens do so anything less than fabulously. But as executed, I find it eventually does little more in this case than suck the soul from the story.
Beyond that, it seems the Coens also make a very concerted effort to consistently subvert our expectations of a Western – which perhaps accounts for the consistent snail’s pace at the events of this film unfold. But perhaps that same pace can be accounted for with the idea that in the process of methodically deconstructing the Western, both as a series of archetypes and as a filmic language, the Coens ended up with a technically impressive film that is as no less of a husk than the leftovers from shucked corn.
Bardem's Oscar, however, was extremely well deserved. He and Ledger blew every other Best Supporting Actor winner of the 2000s out of the water.
Even the bouts of brutality that burst upon the screen every so often are empty of anything beyond their sheer harshness – yes, violence exists in the real world without reason. Yes, there are brutal people who hurt others and play with the value of life for the sake of their own pleasure. But I already knew that. I don’t need the Coens to tell me that, and so that revelation holds no wonder for me. As such, a great deal of what ostensibly adds to the power of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – lost people doing bad things to each other in very violent ways after bouts of nerve-jangling stillness – loses all effectiveness for me. I can’t care about the characters driving this story, and so what happens to them doesn’t matter to me. What happens to them doesn’t matter to me, and so this film all at once becomes unremarkable beyond the sheer amount of technical Coen craft on display.
Besides being a Western-subversion and piece of sterile but technically impressive storytelling , NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN also appears to be a movie with a message. Indeed, I can't fathom how something so carefully crafted on the surface wouldn’t also bear some sort of carefully crafted intention underneath. Only… due to the emptiness of the proceedings, any of the multiple possible meanings present in the film as is lose their luster and fail to ever really solidify into something approachable, debatable, or lingering. There’s a whole range of possible reasons as to why the Coens found this story compelling enough to adapt it for the screen – they just built everything so damn perfectly that I can’t for the life of me make any of them out due their being suffocated by that same brilliant technical perfection.
"Do you have any idea how crazy you are?"
"You mean the nature of this conversation?"
"I mean the nature of you."
Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you wish, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
|Extra Tidbit:||The Coens were once asked why THE BIG LEBOWSKI was such a cult success. They said that they didnít understand it Ė when they finish making a movie, they personally move on from it and it passes out of meaning or connection for them. Out of all their dramatic work this perspective seems starkly present in NO COUNTRY most of all, and I think the film suffers greatly for it.|