Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Day 300, on which, well, it's day 300! There's no need for anything else in this title! [27.10.10]

Dag tre hundrede. Well, let's all throw out hands in the air and celebrate! (Then put our hands back down again, of course, they could get dirty up there) Day 300, wow, I'd like to say I'm surprised I got this far but I haven't really been too bothered about "I don't follow projects through boo hoo" since day 20, it's just become the norm for me. Wow, when I think about what it'd be like to be here at my computer at around 20:30 and realising I don't have to blog, my soul is set free. Or some such bullshit.

What's that, you're expecting some sort of celebratory graphic? Fine.

There we go. Changed the background colour to black, moved the 'Day' a little bit. Changed '200' to '300'. Good as new. Now, if you don't mind, I have a movie to review...


I'll admit something to start us off. I've never seen a Coen brothers film before. They were always just off my film interests, not mainstream enough for me to get a chance to see any of their films. Sure, I'd see trailers of their films - O Brother, where art thou? and Burn after reading specifically have piqued my interest, but I could never get hold of them or find them in the cinema. That's partially my fault; I don't go to the cinema much. But still, I'd never seen any Coen brothers films. Gimme a slap on the wrist for that.

But, as luck would have it, those helpful gents at Channel 4 (I'm liking the new graphics, by the way guys) showed the Coen brothers' modern-day western No Country for Old Men a couple of days ago, late at night, and I recorded it on my digital recording device. I watched it yesterday and this morning off my digital recording and subsequent watching of recorded material device, and I must say it's an interesting film. Look; I'll take you through it.

Chigurh keeps looking up at the loops above the shopkeeper's head in this scene... we've seen him commit two murders already, it's an incredibly tense sequence. Will he throttle the shopkeeper!? Oh, the tension!
No Country for Old Men is based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, the author of The Road, so it was definitely going to be a good book to adapt. It's set in the 80s, in a very different version of the wild west: a Texas where drug deals and mass murderers rule the land and the law can do very little. There are no showdowns in front of clocktowers here; those hick towns in the middle of the desert have grown into large settlements thriving with business, but the landscape is still as bleak. Your stereotypical sheriff is anything but as powerful as the sheriffs in old westerns. Suffice to say, there's a lot of crime going on in the bleak wastelands of the southwest.

After being introduced to the brutal murderer Anton Chigurh (played brilliantly by Xavier Bardem), we start following Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), your average Texas worker. Moss is hunting in the wastes one day when he comes across a group of abandoned jeeps complete with dead Mexicans and a suitcase full of cash - $2 million to be exact. But does Llewelyn just leave it alone or hand it in to the sheriffs? No, no he doesn't. He decided to go awol and run off with the money. But oh dear, bad choice Mr. Moss, 'cause Chigurh is on his heels and he's catching. Thus begins a gripping cat-and-mouse chase between Chigurh and Moss, interspersed with the sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) following up the trail of murders. What happens next? You'll have to watch it to find out.

The face of a killer. Or an actor; your choice.
The first thing I noticed, which isn't immediately apparent from the start, is that there is no music in No Country for Old Men whatsoever. There's a light track in the ending credits, but from the start until then the soundtrack is nonexistent. You're thinking "oh, that sucks, it'll be so boring" but it makes the tension of the film oh so much more poignant. There's nothing lacking - the nonexistence of a soundtrack is not even important. The sounds and atmosphere of this brilliantly observed 80s Texas are enough to work. And, as one person on YouTube cleverly observed, it makes you focus on what's happening more. Which is needed because there's a lot going on in some scenes and not very much in others. You don't want to miss the scenes when there's a lot going on, especially with everyone talking in an inaudible Texas-accented muffle.

In terms of acting, I wouldn't say there's anything special in No Country for Old Men. Not that there needs to be, of course. Xavier Bardem is mesmerising as the murderer Anton Chigurh, though sometimes he almost looks too sane. Maybe a crazy twinkle in the eye wouldn't have gone amiss here and there. Some of his expressions, especially his smile, are spot-on. Others leave a lot to be desired.

You show 'em, Josh.
Then there's Josh Brolin, who does well enough, and the stereotypically cast Tommy Lee Jones who portrays a tired and stoïc sheriff very well. Though he's meant to be the backbone of the film, I sometimes felt that he let the script down, but he looks the part to say the least.

Next up, cinematography. No Country for Old Men has its low points in terms of cinematography, but they're few and far between. Most of the shots and wonderfully composed and really match the bleak atmosphere that the Coen brothers were hoping to achieve. The lighting is exquisite - especially indoors, and the montage of wide shots at the beginning of the film sets the scene perfectly.

The editing is the only aspect of the film which is too off-beat for me. I don't stick to mainstream cinema, don't get me wrong - I'd always prefer a good French film to Iron Man 2 or some ghastly blockbuster like that - but there's something not quite right about the editing of No Country for Old Men. It's long, it's indulgent, and at times it fits the pace of the film well, but elsewhere it seems to drag on a little too much, and it can be hard to understand what the editor wants us to think. Remember, the editor is like the narrator of the film. If he's cutting two scenes into each other, a back-and-forth effect, then it should be clear to see what he means by this. This is where lots of indie films fall down; the editors and directors simply aren't skilled enough or don't have enough objective thinking to see the film as it would look to the average, dumbass viewer.

The story is another part of the film that I was unimpressed with. Maybe I don't think deep enough into the plot, sure. Maybe I don't give it enough time to explain itself with me, sure. But it should still make some sort of sense to me. I felt like I had to overconcentrate on lots of scenes to try and make sense of them; try to insert meaning and understanding into the muffled lines everyone says. But, with the psychotic character of Chigurh, this is difficult. It's clear that the movie was based off a book because it includes lots of themes that require you to read it, and certain parts of it, several times. You have to make your own sense of it, but this is best done with a book. Trust me; I'm doing the exact same thing with The Catcher in the Rye at the moment. The ending is quite abrupt, and leaves a lot to be desired, but in a way I found it satisfying.

Though it has its flaws - flaws which I'm sure can be seen across the Coen brothers' films and are just part of their filmmaking - No Country for Old Men can be enjoyed just as a movie experience rather than a film which is trying to say something. The first hour and a half can be enjoyed just because they're gripping, brilliantly observed, and will have you on the edge of your seat. It's only when you encounter the last scene in the film that you say "hang on, was there meant to be some overarching meaning that I was meant to be picking up throughout the cinematic murders and heartstopping chase sequences?"

It's certainly broken me into the Coen brothers - next on the list, Fargo, which seems like a similar affair. So, to round off this flabby review, I'll have to give No Country for Old Men a number of Js. Because it's very well shot and the atmosphere created is wonderful, I'll give it four Js. But don't expect anything perfect.

J J J J - FOUR Js

~John

1 comment:

Karrde said...

(1)BIG LEBOWSKI: go watch it
(2)TRUE GRIT: this christmas
(3)also <3 Cormac Mccarthy