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Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men is an intense, brilliant, and incredibly frustrating film. For the better part of the movie, Joel and Ethan Coen compose a Hitchcockian nail-biter in which a peerless psycho (a Best Supporting Actor nod-worthy Javier Bardem) goes after money stolen by a retired welder (a revelatory Josh Brolin) as a world-weary sheriff (a routinely fantastic Tommy Lee Jones) follows their trail.

Toward the end of the movie, something unusual happens. (I'm going to speak in vague terms to avoid spoilers.) Basically, the brothers say, "Okay, you know that movie you've been watching? We're not going to end that movie. We're going to end the movie that you're really watching, that maybe you didn't know you were watching, but, if you were paying attention, you really were."

Okay, maybe that's too vague.

The movie that you think you're watching is a white-knuckle neo-noir Western. The movie that you're really watching, and the Coens remind you of it from time to time, is The Seventh Seal.

No Country for Old Men is a meditation on mortality and fate masquerading as a superbly crafted thriller. The trade-off for this brilliant charade is the equivalent of thriller blue balls. The movie seems to be building toward a particular ending with particular roles for the main characters to play out but, because the brothers refuse to compromise the integrity of their themes (or, more to the point, because they want to truly exploit them), the themes get a release that the plot does not.

Because the movie is so concerned with the idea that the only predictable thing about death is its inevitability, the narrative boldly becomes a demonstration of that very concept. Like I said, it's brilliant. But does that make for a satisfying movie-going experience?

Yes and no.

When I saw it at a preview screening, the initial audience reaction when the credits rolled was a palpable sense of disappointment. I felt it, too. I wanted something else. But having digested it for a while now, I'm not sure that something else would have actually been better.

And that's why I admire the hell out of No Country for Old Men, even though I'm still not 100 percent sure exactly how I feel about it.

I definitely want to see it again. That, in combination with the fact that I'm still thinking about it days later, makes it a success already.

So if you don't mind (or seek out) movies you have to chew on, even struggle with, get on this.  (And, if it's any incentive, this review will make a lot more sense after you've seen it.)

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About David Dylan Thomas

  • Craig

    I was extremely disappointed about the ending but enjoyed the rest of the movie. Great movie until the final 15 minutes. The audience was universally disappointed walking out of the theater scratching their heads. Hopefully the DVD will have an alternative ending, then I would watch it again.

  • Gary

    As in the previous comments I liked the acting and the movie until the ending (or lack thereof). That trick has already been employed in The Sopranos. To be different why not make a movie with no beginning, or with no middle, or wait, better still with no beginning, no middle AND no ending. Just wait until everyone gets settled in with his or her tub of buttered popcorn and roll the credits. That would be the ultimate artsy thing.

  • Adam

    Apparently the previous two commenters missed the point of the movie. We’ve become sheep in this country – we need to have everything drawn out for us so we don’t have to think about or acknowledge themes of the movie.

    This was not a movie about a guy that stole drug money or the animal that chased him around. As the reviewer hinted at, it is about the soulless world that we live in today. That is the “real” movie here.

    I loved that the movie didn’t end in a predictable way. If you wanted to know what happened to the woman at the end of the movie, I suggest watching an Adam Sandler movie. I’m not saying that to be a jerk. There are so few decent movies out there (and fewer people like the Cohens that make them) – I would hate for Hollywood would hate to further eliminate these kinds of movies because people want their movies tied up in bows. If you hated the end of this movie and didn’t get the ending to the Sopranos, network tv is probably better suited for you. After all, what is more important to you? A fictional end to a fictional story or something that makes you think and stays with you for several days?

  • Robert Driscoll in Lanark County

    Just noticed this on May 29/12.

    David Dylan Thomas has it correctly: Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay was taken to screen by the Coens even further into the Seventh Seal 1957. The nominal homage (added by Coens) was Flight to Tangier (1953) playing on the unwatched TV screen in the Moss trailer. Behind ‘No Country”‘s closing credits, just listen to the Bergman auditory signatures.

    On the horizon for Coens was brilliant “A Serious Man” (2009) replaying the story of Biblical JOB as physics professor struggling with the Uncertainty Principle and the hilarious parable of the Goy’s Teeth ! ! . . .