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.