Monday, November 26, 2007

No Country For Old Men

THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

Sailing to Byzantium - William Butler Yeats

A metaphorical journey of a man pursuing his own vision of eternal life; true for the Yeats poem and true for the characters in the McCarthy novel turned cinematic success, No Country For Old Men.

Having read the book prior to seeing the movie, I had big expectations, and the Coen Brothers delivered. However, the real credit for such success still has to be handed to McCarthy, a magnificently unique writer. It is a good thing that the Coen boys played it close to the heart, otherwise much of the power of the story would have been lost.

All in all, Coen Brothers + McCarthy = provocative entertainment.

Shot on location in the Big Bend area of Texas, Eagle Pass, and parts of New Mexico, the landscape becomes an important role all it's own. It is no small reason McCarthy chose such a spot for the story to begin; the Texas southwest embodies immense extremes: desert and mountains, harshness and beauty, poverty and unending rich vistas - the same sort of perplexities McCarthy attributes to his characters.

Many of the reviews I've read have hinted at big time Oscar nominations for Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem - and rightly so. But, for all that I love a Tommy Lee film, this just isn't his best for me. I preferred his performance as rancher, Pete Perkins, in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada to his newest role as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in No Country. Perkins is a much more complex character whereas Ed Tom isn't a particularly deep or difficult man to understand; I've known a lot of retired Texas lawmen just like him. Still, Jones gives Ed Tom a sharper edge on screen than McCarthy does on page and it is another great performance for the actor.

While watching this film, I kept thinking it reminded me of something Sam Peckinpah would direct. In fact, you could spend paragraph upon paragraph comparing No Country to Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: Peckinpah's to the Coens's directorial style, Warren Oates/Bennie to Tommy Lee Jones/Ed Tom Bell, Gig Young/Quill to Javier Barden/Chigurh, and a world where people like Bennie, Ed Tom and Llewelyn Moss have few choices. Both movies are dark, brutal, and extremely violent, making them at times equally hard but irresistible to watch.

At some point down the road, I will probably watch No Country again, but it is a given I will re-read the novel, especially compelling to do after seeing the movie.

If you are totally new to McCarthy, this film might not be what you were expecting, but to those of us dipped in the river, it is like a Van Morrison lyric:

Oh, the water
Oh, the water
Oh, the water
Let it run all over me

And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like Jelly Roll
And it stoned me..

Oh, and one more thing I need to clear up - do not make a comparison like Fargo, Texas with this movie; I'll metaphorically air-gun ya down meaner than than Chigurh ever thought about being. Fargo is just Fargo, but Texas is a whole 'nuther world.


George said...

The only Cormac McCarthy novel I have read -- and that was only about six months ago, so I am a real latecomer -- is Blood Meridian, which I have yet to shake. Ridley Scott, of all people, is rumored to be working on a film adaptation of that one, for 2009 release.

But enough about fine American writers. What I really wanted to say is: since you are a fancier of Tommy Lee Jones, you'll be wanting to hightail it out to Japan and pour yerself a can o' joe.

Jeff said...

Jones knows more than a little about the Big Bend country and its people ..... he has a lot of respect it all, both in his actual stewardship of the land, and in the characters he plays in the films.

Annie in Austin said...

This movie is number one on our list right now - the combination of the cast and the Coens made it a must-see... one of these weekends!

Thanks for the review, Pattie - and the Texas angle on it.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

joared said...

Thanks for reviewing this movie. It's playing at our new local Indie five screen theater and had been wondering which of the group to see, since all were titles unfamiliar to me. I like Jones, too. You've convinced me this is the one to see.

I have a film for you at my place, but not a review since haven't been able to see it yet. Another book to film, but excellent adaptation from limited accounts I've heard.

bill said...

I may go see this one. I have read 4 or 5 of the McCarthy novels but not this one. I like them but I didn't think any of them are the masterpieces that some people claim them to be.

I see that Blogger has changed the way you make comments. Darn. Now I have to put my link in the body of the comment.


Anonymous said...

testing comments as anonymous

Pattie said...

testing comments as Nickname

Pattie said...

Bill - I see what you are talking about. In order to send your site link you have to add html coding, etc. instead of signing you comment as easily as someone with a blogger account can...

Blogger should fix that part...

bill said...

bill said

Yeah I hate that. Even if you have a blogger account though it just gives you a link to your "profile" instead of to your blog. Why did they change it anyway?

Anonymous said...

It looks like a good film, although without Elmo or Thomas the Tank Engine in it, we probably won't be able to see it in the theater.

That part of Texas is particularly another world from "our" Texas. Clean air, big sky and scorpions the size of pygmy goats.

- Texas T-bone

kokopelliwoman said...

I've read all the McCarthy books except this one. Plan to see the flick over the hols with my daughter. I can't shake ANY of his books--he is the most atmospheric author writing these days--if you cloned Hemingway, John Nichols, and Garcia Marquez, you might come close to McCarthy. Thanks for the review--I've been watching Bardem for over 10 years, since before he made it on the US scene, and his work is phenomenal--can't wait to see him.

dougjn said...

The flick Fargo has such a cold, plains state northern feel to it. That just permeates. Not a Texas feel whatsoever.