Patterico's Pontifications

12/10/2007

NY Film Critics Say “No Country” Best of The Year — If Only The Movie Had A Point To Make

Filed under: General — WLS @ 12:50 pm



Posted by WLS —

I saw this movie recently, and not being a big reader of fiction, I had never read the book. I certainly won’t now since the reviews of the film seem to confirm that the movie is a fairly close adaption to the book.

Now, the movie is captivating in the sense that it pulls the viewer relentlessly from scene to scene, and the construction of the narrative is impressive.

I’m trying to not give away the ending here, but if you don’t want to know more, don’t go to the jump.

I found the ending of the film somewhat pointless — it has a point, but IMO the “point” is pointless — and while it does cause you to think about the characters, their predicaments, and their reactions to the circumstances they find themselves in, what the Coens leave the audience with are some fairly obvious “yeah, so what?” moments.

I find the Coens fascinating film-makers. I hate to even acknowledge how much I like Oh Brother, while at the same time confessing that I’ve never been able to make it all the way through Fargo. I have The Big Lebowski stored on my TIVO right now, but find no real enthusiasm for trying to watch it — again. I fell asleep about 20 minutes into it the first time.

Here are some of the points that have come to me in trying to think through the messages of the No Country:

Evil is omnipresent in the world. It is relentless and insatiable, and it continues even after it seemingly acquires what it seems to be after.

People we root for can be motivated by unsavory pursuits, and little redeeming social value, whereas the Evil people we root against can be funny and dedicated to their task in a perverse way.

Good people will eventually run and hide once they realize the onslaught cannot be reversed, and they will be encouraged to do so by the ignorant. Only late in life do “Old” Good men realize that Evil was there before them, and it’ll be there after they’re gone.

Poor stupid hicks can only hope survive in the face of Evil though dumb luck.

Gullible dupes who think they are in control really aren’t — Evil is always in control.

“Business” men and “military” types have an evil side to them even with “business” and “military” have no role in the on-screen attributes of the characters. The relentlessness of the Evil they have unleashed, or courted, will eventually catch-up to them as well.

And even the innocent will be slaughtered by Evil simply as a point of principle — who knew Evil had principles? The Coens apparently.

In the end, Evil just walks away.   

Ok. So what?

To me this simply reveals the conceit of a couple guys who know how to operate a camera and splice film in interesting ways. The movie was “entertaining” but ultimately unfulfilling. I walked out scratching my head, and in the days since seeing it the “thoughts” it has “provoked” from me are pretty much either 1) wrong or 2) inconsequential.

I’d vote for Transformers. I still like to watch it 6 months later together with my 6 year old laying on the floor eating popcorn.

40 Responses to “NY Film Critics Say “No Country” Best of The Year — If Only The Movie Had A Point To Make”

  1. It certainly seemed pointless to me.

    When it ended, people in the theatre booed, and I threw in a few myself. After Fargo and O Brother, this was a huge disappointment.

    The critics is asses.

    DANBOY (9cb3b0)

  2. The Coens are very skilful technicians but there’s a realdishoesty to their filmmaking in that they flatter audiences by putting them in positions of superiority to the characters on the screen. Like their earleir Blood Simple, No Country For Old Men is two hours of stupid people doing stupid things to get ahold of moeny they have no chance in hell of having.

    Audiences love to think they’re smarter and therefroe in cotnrol. Hitchcock loved to play with such presumption — always pulling the rug otu from under viewers whwen they least expected it. But he didn’t treat people like fools either. In Rear Window James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter play extremely smart sohisticated people. And Raymond Burr’s murderer is no fool either.

    Even in Psycho, where you’re dealing with much more lower middl-class, less eaborateyl edcated characters we are never encouraged to feel superior to Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane. And part of the film’s impact stems from the fact that her death comes out of left field. She in no way invited it — unlike the rubes in Coen movies.

    I am happy to report that the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (I’ve been a member since the late 70’s) voted There Will Be Blood as Best Picture.

    David Ehrenstein (5f9866)

  3. The movie was “entertaining” but ultimately unfulfilling.

    Absolutely, unless we are supposed to go back to see it 2-3-4 times to try to find the real point.

    Tregg Wright (c1fefd)

  4. Why does a movie have to have a “real point”? Why isn’t it enough that it is a brilliantly shot, edited, and acted story that is engrossing from beginning to end and leaves you with vivid impressions of the characters and many of the scenes. And what makes the static, unnaturally stylized scenes of Hitchcock films so great? And why does Ehrenstein have to show us how superior he is by noting that he loved a movie that none of us peons can see for another few weeks?

    Michael Hertzberg (c36902)

  5. I’m disappointed to hear this because I liked Fargo.

    DRJ (a6fcd2)

  6. I liked “Miller’s Crossing”. A lot. A very good ripoff of the “The Glass Key” with a lot of “Red Harvest” as well. I think the Coens peaked with that one. Nothing that they did before or have done since is as good. (BTW: For you lawyers, you may have read “Fargo” in law school. It was a DC Circuit opinion about the authority of the court vs. the prosecutor to approve or disapprove plea bargains. I think the enactment of the sentencing guidelines overruled that opinion, however.)

    nk (26f031)

  7. Anyone else having trouble seeing the entire page because someone/something is putting up spam comments on very old threads, along with shopping links that cause the sidebar on the right with “recent comments” to extend halfway across the entire page?

    I don’t have full administrator privileges, so I can’t delete these spam messages. I think only Patterico has full privileges — though I’ll invite DRJ to delete them if she can.

    [I’ll do my best. — DRJ]

    WLS (dfa1f1)

  8. Questioning the worth of The Big Lebowski? This shall not stand, Dude.

    Like you, I didn’t enjoy it that much the first time through. But I saw it again a couple years ago with a couple buddies and have since joined the cult. It makes a lot more sense now – it’s just a road film about some idiot buddies that don’t really take a road trip. They just kind of hang out and rag on each other and sort of botch a private eye job. It’s like Dumb & Dumber but with smarter and much more interesting losers. It’s worth giving the movie a second chance and if you have some buddies that you hang out and drink beers with, it’s actually fair grist for a Dude’s Movie Night.

    If you still don’t like it… oh well. The Dude abides anyways, man. The Dude abides.

    And if you want to see something funny, check out “The Big Lebowski: F***in Short Version” on YouTube. It’s awe inspiring.

    Al Maviva (89d0b6)

  9. ” And why does Ehrenstein have to show us how superior he is by noting that he loved a movie that none of us peons can see for another few weeks?”

    JEEZ! Just giving everyone a heads-up on a superior movie that also won critics awards.

    David Ehrenstein (5f9866)

  10. This is actually one of the times where David E. is simply sharing a pov that he is genuinely knowledgable about and has a professional insight to that perhaps most of us don’t. Its not about superiority. After a while his flame throwers are easily recognizable. This isn’t one.

    Dana (b4a26c)

  11. Serenity — thank you for the link. It pretty much sums up my view. Fun to watch, difficult to digest, and when it passes its pretty much gone.

    WLS (dfa1f1)

  12. The critics is still asses.

    DANBOY (9cb3b0)

  13. Considering that There Will Be Blood is all about a black-hearted, hypocritical capitalist and his feud with a black-hearted, hypocritical evangelist, I’m guessing it’ll be even less popular than No Country around these parts.

    One of many things I liked about No Country is that the Tommy Lee Jones character is set up like a Clint Eastwood type icon, and the casual moviegoer is inclined to think it’s all going to be about the world-weary, battle-hardened tough guy coming out of retirement for one last showdown with evil…and then he completely fails. As an aging sheriff likely would in real life.

    Maybe you need a sick sense of humor to appreciate that aspect.

    LYT (b67340)

  14. I have always put little faith in critics. Movies will appeal to the viewer who enjoys that type of movie. Yes sometimes critics will push a film that the masses would enjoy, if only they knew about it (Being John Malkovich comes to mind), but for the most part movie reviews are just as useful as most political polling 1 year from election time.

    That said, the Coen Brothers works are truly well crafted films, with almost all of them being the best of what I consider dark comedy, and for some, its too dark. Though relatively unknown, Barton Fink is a masterpiece of filmcraft.

    I have not seen their latest endevour, but plan to. And I dont think a movie has to have a point to be made. Much more so than most of the crap that Hollywood churns out which is all formula based bubblegum, its films like these that will make you think when you leave the theater, far moreso than something like Redacted.

    Gabriel (6d7447)

  15. I must confess to being a Cormac McCarthy fan, and as this review criticizes the story mostly, I feel compelled to defend it. I liked the movie, and I found it much in the style of most of his other works. His quintessential and most acclaimed book in this vein is Blood Meridian, a sort of anti-western, which is far, far more violent, gruesome, and pointless. McCarthy doesn’t try an explain evil, he just affirms its soul-destroying presence throughout the world and how people deal with it. McCarthy has said that there is “no such thing as life without bloodshed,” and that a novelist’s subject should be death. Pretty grim, but he’s a great writer.

    I did love Transformers too, though. Great fun.

    Russell (5ecf4a)

  16. Oh, and if you didn’t like No Country, you’d probably like his latest book, which won the Pulitzer Prize this year, The Road. Much more friendly.

    Russell (5ecf4a)

  17. I’ll second David E (who was seconding WLS). We were given a bunch of “oh, you REALLY gotta go see this one!” from friends, and even after we patiently explained that we DON’T LIKE SUPER-VIOLENT MOVIES, everyone was all, “it’s not really that violent.”

    Bull-puckey! And not only is it super-duper violent, that’s about the only “point” to this whole technical exercise — how can we make an utterly stylized and memorable film (and one that’s apparently 99% faithful to the book) … out of what is at root a slasher movie about a serial killer. At least Fargo was funny in bits, though it, too seemed like cynical art-violence-porn to me.

    One of many things I liked about No Country is that the Tommy Lee Jones character is set up like a Clint Eastwood type icon, and the casual moviegoer is inclined to think it’s all going to be about the world-weary, battle-hardened tough guy coming out of retirement for one last showdown with evil…and then he completely fails.

    That movie was called A Perfect World, and it was far, far superior.

    Matt Welch (0800e3)

  18. I saw this movie recently, and not being a big reader of fiction, I had never read the book. I certainly won’t now since the reviews of the film seem to confirm that the movie is a fairly close adaption to the book.

    That’s a real shame. The Coens closely adapted the plot, but so much is lost in the transition from page to screen. You only stand to lose from this attitude.

    If you’re nevertheless unconvinced about No Country, try either The Road, as Russell suggests, or All the Pretty Horses.

    Joe M. (edb8e8)

  19. Glad you mentioned A Perfect World, Matt. It’s one of Clint’s most interesting movies and contains Kevin Costner’s best performance. The scroe by Lennie Niehaus is heartbreaking.

    David Ehrenstein (5f9866)

  20. Joe M — I’m just not a big reader of fiction under any circumstances. Frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to name the last fiction book I read. I read almost exclusively non-fiction, and I read pretty much continually from one book to the next.

    I’m being greatly tempted at this minute to not finish The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin, as it is almost the biggest steaming pile of poopship I’ve ever read. But, I’m going to finish it only so I can trash it here.

    WLS (dfa1f1)

  21. I am a very big fan of fiction, but I am leery of writers who cannot come up with an original title but need to borrow a line from a famous poem.

    nk (26f031)

  22. “When it ended, people in the theatre booed, and I threw in a few myself. ”

    no jokes here eh?

    “Joe M — I’m just not a big reader of fiction under any circumstances. Frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to name the last fiction book I read. I read almost exclusively non-fiction, and I read pretty much continually from one book to the next.”

    Do you go to church?

    whitd (10527e)

  23. I’m tempted to delete that comment, whitd, as it’s pure trolling — trying to start an argument on an unrelated topic for no good reason.

    Because I’m very liberal on comments, I’ll just encourage people to ignore that comment.

    Patterico (faeccf)

  24. Patterico – I have been holding back on that particular bit of asshattery since I read it.

    And anyway, we all know that Redacted and its $60,000 in revenue is the best movie of the year 😉

    JD (2c9284)

  25. I am happy to report that the Los Angeles Film Critics Association voted There Will Be Blood as Best Picture.

    Any year where we have the Coens’ vying with P.T. Anderson for Best Picture is a good year.

    Al Maviva: thanks for the youtube recommend; that was hilarious. I recently watched The Big L on TV with my daughter; I knew something was missing….

    Bob Loblaw (6d485c)

  26. “I’m tempted to delete that comment, whitd, as it’s pure trolling — trying to start an argument on an unrelated topic for no good reason.”

    I don’t see how there could be an argument there.

    whitd (10527e)

  27. A good movie that deeply looks at morals between good hearted characters and how that can be corrupted is in Sam Rami’s masterpiece, A Simple Plan. One of Billy Bob Thorton’s and Bill Paxton’s best.

    http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0120324/

    Schmoe (a8060f)

  28. Gimme a break. Morons Audiences booed this movie both times I went to see it; I shook my head in disbelief the first time and my brother and I shook our heads in unison the second.

    (These were the same audiences who guffawed when the cute little pitbull chased Josh Brolin down the river.

    “Haw! Haw! Da doggy wooks funny!” /drool

    Seriously, how fucking tone-deaf are people these days?)

    The plot of this story is very simple: so what? The story’s clear enough, and life doesn’t always have dramatic twists.

    Michael Hertzberg said it, and I’ll embellish it: why does a movie have to hammer a point into your skull for it to “have a point”? (That’s right, Crash: I’m talking to you). I think this movie had a perfectly clear point: Good doesn’t always win, and Evil doesn’t always win when Good loses (besides, it’s not like there aren’t enough movies – namely, all of them – where the good guy wins). Shit happens.

    Aside from that, Josh Brolin plays his role perfectly: he’s not “a Good Guy” – he’s a regular guy who picks up 2 million dollars and tries to survive the inevitable shitrain. He loves his wife (the dialogue between the two is, I dare say, touching, in a rough-around -the-edges way), and he does his best to protect her while he deals with his own problems. What’s not to like? What’s not to root for?

    For his part, Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh will go down in history as one of the greatest villains of all time.

    Finally, the lack of a soundtrack lends to the weight of every scene. If you live out West, you can appreciate how beautiful those silent opening shots really are.

    I was talking with my grandma and she asked me if No Country For Old Men was some sort of Western. I chuckled at first; but the more I think about, the more I realize that that is exactly what it is. One way or another, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen – and I didn’t even like Fargo.

    Leviticus (43095b)

  29. “For his part, Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh will go down in history as one of the greatest villains of all time.”

    A small-timer compared to Preacher Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter and Roy Cohn in Angels in America.

    David Ehrenstein (5f9866)

  30. You couldn’t make it through Fargo? More proof that taste is unfathomably subjective.

    And nk, please don’t judge a book by the title. There is nothing new under the sun anyway.

    Hayseed (bf276f)

  31. To Michael Hertzberg and Levitcus:

    I don’t disagree that movies don’t always need to have a “point.” I said the ending seemed somewhat “pointless”, and the “point” it did seem to have struck me as “pointless” — maybe a better word would have been “self-evident.” It didn’t make me think, it left me scratching my head wondering what message the film-makers were trying to give me. To the extent their message was “Evil is all around us and good men ultimately are powerless to do anything about that” — well, no kidding.

    I appreciated the way they made the movie — it was entertaining as it unfolded. My problem was that it seemed to unfold to a conclusion without a meaning.

    I recognize that this is an unfair comparison because The Godfather is a classic, but the main character there who “wins” has become a truly despicable human being by the end. Yet he emerges as the victor while sacraficing his humanity along the way.

    So, good storytelling doesn’t require that the good guy always win, it simply requires a good story. And a good story generally comes with good ending. The ending need not tie up every loose string of the plot, but the ending should generally have some relationship to the plot.

    Here it was pretty much a rumination on hopelessness — fade to black.

    So why was I there for two hours?

    WLS (dfa1f1)

  32. I don’t know if it will help your appreciation (or lack thereof) of the movie, and I may be making a huge assumption here about what your take on the characters is, but, what made the movie “click” for me was realizing the the main character was Sheriff Ed Tom Bell and not Llewelyn Moss. In the opening monologue, there is a statement about deciding whether you’re going to be a part of the world or not (really crappy synopsis of a very poetic statement) and, at the end, Ed Tom decides he wants no part of it. I definitely “felt” him quit in the hotel room. That closed the story arc for me.

    Metzger (e03adc)

  33. A small-timer compared to Preacher Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter

    Ooooh…Night of the Hunter. Saw that on late night TV when I was 11 (back when they showed such fare on late night broadcast TV). Saw Mitchum in Cape Fear two weeks later. Better film villains you will not find.

    I agree with David E.’s take on the Coens, generally. I laughed at Blood Simple, loved Miller’s Crossing, and enjoyed Fargo as a valentine to the Coens’ native Minnesota, where my family is from and where I lived at the time. But I noticed a growing tone of condescension in their films that became insufferable in O, Brother. (Look at the funny hicks, ha ha!) Since then, I’ve totally lost interest in their films.

    Missy (939906)

  34. Laughton kept all the out-takes from The Night of the Hunter and before she died Elsa Lanchester donated them to the UCLA film archives. A couple of years back about an hours worth of the out-takes were screened at a special showing of the film. In them you can see Laughton directing the actors. Quite something. I hope they’re made more widely available. He’s very sweet and patient with the children and Mitchum is in total rapport with him on every acting moment. It’s as if Laughton were playing him like a finely-tuned instrument.

    David Ehrenstein (5f9866)

  35. David,

    Do you know the name of that movie from the 50’s where an American mentally handicapped girl from a rich family wants to marry a likewise Italian mentally handicapped boy from a rich family and the whole movie is about the two families trying to protect each other from their child without actually coming out and saying so? The setting is Italy and there’s a sub-plot with the father of the boy hitting on the mother of the girl.

    nk (26f031)

  36. David E.,

    I haven’t seen either of those movies (and perhaps I should). However, you’ve gotta admit that Chigurh deserves a spot in the Villain’s Hall of Fame.

    Leviticus (d68932)

  37. NK,

    Are you thinking of Light in the Piazza?

    DRJ (09f144)

  38. Yes. Thank you, DRJ.

    nk (26f031)

  39. No Country for Old Men won SAG awards for best ensemble and best supporting actor (Javier Bardem).

    DRJ (517d26)


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