No Country for Old Men.

No Country for Old Men is a not an overhyped blockbuster movie. If you have seen the trailer, you probably thought it looked rather strange. You would be right, but in a wonderful way. (Audio review here.)

The movie is difficult to pigeonhole, but the story, set in 1980 in rural Texas, is fairly straightforward. Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, a rugged native who stumbles across a deserted murder scene where he discovers and absconds with a case full of money. From that point on, two men head up two very different methods of pursuit. Tommy Lee Jones is small town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (phenomenal name), who is trying to figure out what happened. Javier Bardem, whom you might recognize from The Sea Inside or a small role in Collateral, is a ferociously single-minded individual who has been hired by less than scrupulous people to track down the missing cash.

The movie is directed by the Coen Brothers, who have put together high quality offbeat films like O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, and Blood Simple. In those movies and many of their others, the brothers combine familiar movie elements into a single amalgam that defies being defined as a single genre. With No Country for Old Men, they have done the same thing, creating a movie that might be best described as a neo-western. Its deliberate pace, scenic framing, and South Texas location call to mind classic westerns. The tagline for the movie is that "There are no clean getaways," which implies that this is a heist movie. There are parts of that genre, and there are major components of a chase picture, all tweaked to fit the technologically crude era of 1980.

Now, that's the setup, but is this offbeat movie any good? The critics sure think so. Plenty of critics societies have already named this the best picture of 2007, including groups from from New York, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, D.C., and the National Board of Review. It's also probably the current favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar, for praiseworthy reasons that are easy to spot and completely justified.

The three lead performances have grabbed the headlines, and understandably so. Javier Bardem is absolutely terrifying in his atypical villainous role. There is no gimmicky mask or superpower, just pure evil. With merely a look or a stride, he exudes menace, more force of nature than mere bad guy. He is a bad dude, both fantastic and frightening. Because Bardem is so good, he overshadows Josh Brolin, who disappears into his self-confident Texas denizen, playing the chasee with a confidence that makes him an excellent anti-hero. Tommy Lee Jones is stellar as usual. He embodies a world-weary sheriff with one of the best combinations of drawl and lingo that you will ever hear. His drawl is accompanied by a script that is taken in large part directly from the book on which the film is based. The words are rife with a vernacular that could not be more perfect, eliciting grins from the viewer with both their humor and suitability. Even when you don't know what is said, you know precisely what it means. Of these three turns, Bardem has won many awards already, and will almost certainly be nominated for and win an Academy Award. Even though Brolin and Jones have not yet received many accolades, both are worthy of such honors; the problem being that that they are frequently eclipsed by Bardem's chilling portrayal.

Due to the magnetic acting of the leads and the character actors, who are great as they look and sound as though they have spent their entire lives baking in the dry heat near the Mexican border, the movie is extremely compelling despite a deliberate pace and almost no background music during its two-hour running length. Most chase-type movies are fast-paced and action-packed, leaving little time for suspense to grow; this is the opposite. There are no quick-cutting action scenes, but instead heart-pounding scenes that slowly ramp up the tension. Those intense parts are complemented by quieter scenes of conversation or investigation that maintain a foreboding dramatic undertone of upcoming conflict. While the film loses some of its building momentum late in the story, and the denouement does not quite match the brilliance of the preceding hundred minutes, the closing moments remain appropriate for a movie that doesn't offer any easy questions or answers.

All in all, this is a movie that is definitely worthy of the countless honors that it is receiving from critics across the country. Assuming the writer's strike doesn't waylay the Oscars, I suspect that this will be the frontrunner for Best Picture, and I'd bet a good chunk of money that Bardem will snag a Best Supporting Actor trophy. His performance and the film on the whole stand out from the year's crowd and are worth seeing, not for the popcorn movie crowd, but for fans of good, well-crafted cinema and story-telling.

Bottom Line: One of the best of the year. 8 of 10.

Disclaimer: This movie is rated R, for pervasive blood and brutal violence, and to a lesser extent, language. DO NOT take kids to this movie. Some adults won't want to see it either.


B. D. Mooneyham said...

Paul, it kinda makes me laugh that even when you really like a movie, you still only give it 8 out of ten.

With so many movies between 6 and 8, you might consider adding half points, so your audience can have a little more helpful variability in your ratings.

Prince of Spades said...

Yeah, I not thrilled about my system either. At some point, I need to blow it up and re-establish standards. I've good a pretty good idea of what I might do, but I think I'll wait until after the Oscars to do it.

Patrick Roberts said...

just saw no country for old men; it's unassumingly unconventional and yet (thankfully) never over the top. the ending was a bit dumbfounding, but maybe that's a good thing...