Wednesday, January 19, 2011

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Always give a film the attention it deserves

I always thought that I didn’t like No Country for Old Men.  The problem was that my opinion was not very well thought out. I didn’t like it for two reasons: I watched it on cable TV barely paying attention and therefore found it boring with and anticlimactic, and I also hated it because I was bitter that it beat There Will Be Blood for best Picture at the Oscars.  These are foolish reasons to dislike a movie, and I am now so glad that I gave the film another shot.  
This time around, I absolutely loved it!  Just goes to show how the way that you watch a film and the mood that you are in can affect your opinion of it.  There are two great aspects about the film that stand out to me: the directing and the original story.  Taken at face value, No Country can been viewed as an extremely tense chase movie.  It follows a cowboy who stumbles upon a murder scene and finds 2 million dollars in a briefcase.  With no one around, he steals it only to eventually find that a ruthless killer is now after him and wants the money back.  It turns into an intense game of ‘cat and mouse’ as he relentlessly chases the cowboy across the state of Texas.  Stuck in the middle is the sheriff, played by the great Tommy Lee Jones, who is trying to catch either one or both of them, but alas, as the title suggests, he is just to old and tired to deal with this anymore. Thanks to the direction, the scenes involving the killer hot on the tracks of the cowboy and various stand-offs between them, are incredibly paced and the lack of music draws you right into the suspense of the chase.  
However, the true effect of the film lies in the symbolism of the story’s characters.      I can’t believe I didn’t catch this the first time around (actually, it makes sense since I wasn’t paying attention), but the ruthless killer is clearly a representation of fate, and the cowboy is chance.  The cowboy is constantly running around, making split decisions, flying by the seat of his pants and only getting away from trouble with luck.  Meanwhile, the killer (or fate) is always looming behind him, methodically planning out his steps; he is that overbearing shadow that threatens the cowboy’s outcome and destiny.  There are numerous references throughout to support this argument, particularly the various monologues like the ‘coin-toss’ speech.  The sheriff is just an older man who’s stuck dealing with these two ways of life (fate and chance), and is worn down by this battle.  
I’m not an english or philosophy major, so I apologize if I’m not that articulate in this thematic symbolism, but it is definitely there by purpose.  It also explains the anticlimactic last half hour, which acts as a meditation on the feuding of these ideas. But even disregarding the symbolism, this film is nevertheless a top-notch intense thriller that is beautifully put together.
Summary: Often referred to as a ‘Nihilist Western’, No Country for Old Men is a symbolic thriller I am very glad to have revisited. It has virtually no music and little dialogue for the first hour and a half, and works to its advantage to make an incredible chase.  But, yes I’m still bitter that it beat There Will Be Blood for best picture.  It jumped from the 700s, to #158 on my account.  

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