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No Movie For Old Wagstaff December 1, 2007

Posted by Jim Berkin in Movies.

I’ll begin by stating that I’ve NEVER been a big fan of the Coen brothers, and probably the only movies of theirs that I’ve liked were their debut “resumé” film Blood Simple and their later Fargo. So, I went to their current No Country For Old Men with my expectations fairly low.

It’s a crime movie about a collection of heavily armed sleazebags of varying degrees of moral bankruptcy doin’ some killin’ over drug money, but the framing device for the movie is that it’s also the story of an old man feeling sorry for himself. We begin with that man’s (Tommy Lee Jones) narration and end with a supposedly meaningful and important description of a dream. What we wind up with is a rehashing of the same condescending and often annoying material that permeates nearly every Coen brothers’ outing, that of lowlife killers engaging in graphically depicted cartoon violence interspersed with supposedly comical local yokels who speak in the accent du jour. Imagine Fargo, only switching Texas shitkicker-drawl for slack-jaw Minnesota Norwegian and changing seemingly endless dusty open dry space for seemingly endless snowy space and you basically have this movie.

It’s not that it’s a bad movie. There are good performances throughout, especially Josh Brolin as a sometimes-clever but mostly foolhardy trailer park bubba who smells a big score, and Javiar Bardem as a superhuman killer (though a one-note performance, basically, but it’s effective). And as with all Coen brothers’ movies, the film succeeds admirably on what I guess I’ll call the microcinematic level – scenes are constructed well, exposition is cleverly revealed with sequences of pure visual detail: a blood trail, a wandering dog, people hiding in the dark while we hear subtle yet revealing background noises, etc. But on the macrocinematic level – where is the story going, and far more importantly – what is the point of telling this story in cinematic form? the film falls flat, much like what I’ve found nearly every other Coen brothers’ film does. While they are experts in explicating the mechanics of a story, they lose sight of any resonance that story might have or deserve to have. So what we ultimately wind up with remains technically proficient mediocrity, which is certainly all the rage in Hollywood these days.

And the critics continue to shower laurels on these guys. I don’t get it, though I never got the way critics touted R.E.M and U2 back in the 1980s as Godsends to the world of rock. I never got the way critics fell over themselves to declare Arrested Development or My Name Is Earl as the funniest shows on TV.

Perhaps I lack some sort of sensory organ to detect the special qualities of all these things and the critics possess such an organ. Or on the other hand, maybe I have the special ability to know when something just isn’t worthwhile and they are the blind ones.

I’ll go with the latter.



1. khanfar - December 12, 2007

thanks for this information ….

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