Catching Up With No Country for Old Men
By Marjorie Baumgarten, 1:04PM, Wed. Sep. 12, 2007
The first film I attended was something I really wanted to see, but also an attempt to catch up with festival-goers who had already caught some of Toronto’s films at Cannes in May and Venice last month. No Country for Old Men by the Coen brothers is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy and stars Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, and Javier Bardem, whose demented appearance provides and use of oxygen-tank weaponry is merely a hint of the character’s way-off-the-charts psychopathology. At first glance, the pairing of McCarthy and the Coens might seem an unlikely match. But the combo ends up working beautifully. The film is a crime drama, as are so many of Joel and Ethan Coen’s efforts from Blood Simple to The Ladykillers. Although No Country’s tone doesn’t share the goofy vibe of works such as Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, one look at Bardem’s ‘do and fearless performance as a beyond-the-pale whackjob (literally) lets us know that the Coens are somewhere behind the scenes cracking up with laughter. The film’s violence has moments that fall into the ultra-violence territory, yet remain creative and memorably stunning. Jones delivers another immensely satisfying performance here, but the real surprise is Brolin, whose character is more the story’s protagonist than Jones’. Brolin commands our full attention as a leading man, and the film should be a breakthrough role for him. It’s through his character’s storyline that the Coens once again challenge us to follow the money trail. Although I haven’t read McCarthy’s novel, I assume that some of the story’s themes about the lapsed values of the past and the way America is changing for the worse are incorporated into Jones’ sheriff, who is on the trail of those following the money trail. No County for old Men kind of subsides precipitously after reaching a dramatic crescendo, which again I presume is a reflection of the novel. This unsatisfyingly rapid narrative closure, however, may just be a sign that No Country is one of those totally involving stories that one just hates to see end.