Originally Written – 2/8/2010
Call me lazy, crazy or all of the above, but I have a terrible habit of watching Oscar winning movies 2 years too late. Maybe I just can’t get out to the theater when all the buzz is churning up, maybe it’s the 70+ movies currently sitting in my Netflix queue or maybe I’m just a curmudgeonly hermit who prefers his big screen TV to sitting with actual human beings. Perhaps we’ll never know.
What I do know is, I’ve been waiting forever to see 2007’s Best Picture winner with a degree of trepidation. Could it possibly be as good as everybody said it is? The Coen Brothers rarely disappoint with the obvious classics like Raising Arizona, The Big Lebwoski and Fargo being among some of my favorite flicks but they’ve had some stinkers…The Ladykillers anybody?
Luckily for me, I had nothing to fear. No Country For old Men is easily the best Coen Brothers I’ve ever seen, and more than deserved its Best Picture Oscar.
On the surface, the plot is simple enough. Guy finds a briefcase full of drug money, drug guys hire psychopath to track it down. End of story. The real beauty of this film is not the synopsis rather the layers and layers of subtext woven into it. In comparison, it makes Fargo look like a Saturday morning cartoon. Suffice to say, this film demands a few viewings so you can really get a feel for the weight of the material.
No Country perfectly leverages everything that makes the Coen Brothers virtuoso filmmakers. The casting is perfect, the quirky humor is there in the perfect amount, the cinematography is spot on and the acting is uniformly brilliant, so much so that no one character ever outshines the other.
Speaking of acting, every cast member in No Country is perfectly utilized. While much ado was made of Javier Bardem’s Oscar winning role (deservedly so), the real surprise is Tommy Lee Jones as the humble town sheriff. In the atypical “cop after the bad guy” role, Jones perfectly portrays a man who’s caught up in a whirlwind he’s not prepared for nor fully understands. Quietly confident, yet internally aware he’s up against a force of destruction nobody can stop, he never breaks stride, even as he stays three steps behind the carnage. Without the Jones character, No Country is nothing more than a great character study of a psychopathic killer. With it, the film emotionally ties together.
The other characters in the film all work together to create a sense of balanced simplicity that simply can’t comprehend the coldly calculating killer that’s ripping their world apart. The Coen Brothers have always had a love for the simple folk that make up the fabric of America and No Country is no exception. It’s this dichotomy between good hearted “All American” people and the evil genius walking among them that gives the film its emotional grounding. You truly feel for every victim not because they never saw it coming, but because they never would’ve thought that kind of evil was possible in the first place.
In the end, my favorite aspect of the film has to be the overall tension that every scene is soaked in. While this point has undoubtedly been discussed to death within film circles, the feeling of quiet simple dread makes every moment pulse with anticipation. If you get nothing else from this film, this skill of creating tension out of sometimes ordinary situations is unnerving and exhilarating all at the same time. Only M Night Shamalyan does it as well and it’s as close to modern day Hitchcock as it gets.
While the ending could leave viewers who missed the subtexts a little cold, No Country is an instant classic, full of wrought tension and memorable characters, that’s molded into cinematic perfection. No Country For Old Men defines the term “pitch perfect” filmmaking in that it glides along at its own snails pace and sucks you in with every deliberate step.
Score – 100%