Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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No Country for Old Men

The other day I watched the Coen brothers' latest film, No Country for Old Men, which is based of the novel by Cormac McCarthy, and is a film that's gotten a lot of good things said about it. For many, it seemed, it was a return to form for the Coen brothers.

I suppose I'll come down to the line of disagreeing, but not because I think the film is bad, but rather because the end misses its thematic mark, and that sense of missing a mark has been my sense with the Coens for a while now. In case you've not heard about the film, it's centred around Llewelyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin, and whose problems begin when he comes across a drug deal gone bad. Amongst the dead and dying, he finds a suitcase full of money and takes it, making the one mistake of returning later to give water to a dying man, which ends up with him being found. Before you reach the film, you'll be sold on the fact that Tommy Lee Jones' character, Ed, is at the centre of the film, but he's not, really, and that's both the film's strength and flaw in its thematic conversation. No Country for Old Men has a thematic concern that is pretty much summed up in the title: that there is no place for old men in this new world, that they are being minimised by their fading physical attributes, and that in the fights that take place between young men, they are unable to compete. Lee's Ed, therefore, while intelligent and dogged in his unravelling of the drug deal, Llewelyn's place in it, and how dangerous Anton (played by Javier Barden) is, is never able to engage in the conflict of the book. Whenever Anton is given a confrontation that he must overcome, it is one that arises from Llewelyn, for he, unlike Ed, is his physical counter part, a man in a similar age bracket who can compete against him.

For the most part, that works fine. Brolin does a fine job as the down to earth, take no shit hunter/cowboy, though his conflict against Barden's killer is diminished somewhat by the fact that Anton is such a cartoon character that he's more unintentionally humouress than chilling. But still, the film isn't bad: the Coen's know how to put together a solid film, and the chase the two are engaged in is one that carries you through the film nicely. It is, however, with a quarter of the film left, and with Llewelyn's death, that the film falls back onto its thematic content to carry it, and it's there that the whole thing falls apart. It is at this stage that you realise that Jones' character really hasn't spent that much time on the screen, and that his top billing is somewhat unearned in terms of screen time; but the real problem is that by having him as such a diminished presence, when it comes time to give the film its weight and purpose, there's no resonance, because Ed is very much a periphery character, and his push in the final quarter to the centre of the film is an awkward one, and results in the introduction of a disable brother and retirement that feels as if it has come out of nowhere, and leaves the viewer feeling as if he or she missed a whole section of the film.

It's a question of weighting, in the end. For such a theme to be successful, then more time has to be spent with the character that it hinges on, and at the end of the film, where Ed describes the dream of his father--a strange moment where he seems to imply that he'd like nothing better if Dad could come back, hold him, read him a bedtime fable and tell him his important to the world--there's been no investment made by either the film makers or the audience for the theme to actually work.
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