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  • No Country For Old Men

       December 09, 2007

    I went to see “No Country For Old Men” last night. The film, based on Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name isn’t my usual cup of tea. However, I’ve found that when I don’t choose the movie, it’s usually a good one. Imagine that. Anyway, “No Country For Old Men” is a good one. Stephen King named it the best movie of the year in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly and it’s nominated for the same honors by the National Board of Review.

    More than anything, the movie reminded me of “The Searchers”. Not because of the plot or theme, but because of the overwhelming sense of dread the filmmakers (the Coen brothers) were able to convey. Near the start of “The Searchers”, Ethan Edwards’ (John Wayne) brother’s family is massacred by Comanches. We don’t see the massacre, instead we see:

    The tense, uneasy pre-massacre scene at Aaron's homestead before the Indian attack in the orange-red light of dusk is highlighted by a succession of vivid, poetic images. Aaron and Martha pretend that nothing is amiss to avoid scaring the children:
    • a covey of birds (quail?) take sudden flight after being startled
    • the family dog barks on the porch
    • a nervous Martha watches her husband as he tries to remain calm, but takes his gun with him: "I think I'll see if I can't pick off a couple of sage hens before supper"
    • Ben shows concern to his mother: "I wish Uncle Ethan was here. Don't you Ma?"
    • a closeup of Lucy screaming when she realizes they are in grave danger and threatened by an Indian attack
    • Martha is anxious with Debbie as she is put through the window with her blanket and rag doll Topsy and told to run and hide in the family cemetery. Martha throws herself across the window sill in tears, crying out: "Baby!"

    The pre-massacre scene ends with the shocking view of Chief Scar (German-born Henry Brandon, a blue-eyed, non-Native American) standing menacingly over a frightened Debbie crouched by a family grave, his shadow moving over her and covering her.

    Amazingly, "No Country For Old Men" maintains that tension and dread for over two hours, as you look over your shoulder for another almost ghostly appearance by Javier Bardem's unspeakably evil Anton Chigurh.

    I think that in some ways the movie is about how different characters deal with that kind of evil. Most people can't even comprehend it, while some characters are almost impressed by it. Other characters think they can run away from it, while Tommy Lee Jones' weary sheriff Ed Tom Bell is resigned to a world filled with it. And finally, while Roger Ebert rather insultingly calls the main female character "childlike", her defiant reaction to evil is the one I admire the most.

    A word of caution - if you hated the ending of "The Sopranos" you should probably steer clear of this movie. It's not wrapped up in a neat little bow and I'd hate for you to be like the woman in our theater who yelled out "That sucks!" as the screen faded to black.


    Posted by at December 9, 2007 11:31 AM

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