Thursday, 14 February 2008

No Country for Old Men

Michael Wood has an excellent review of the above in the current London Review of Books. Like almost everyone else I thought it was a very, very impressive film, impossible to predict but seamless according to its own logic, beautifully crafted in the same late-modernist mode as films like Marnie and L'Argent, and scary as hell. I haven't read the novel it's based on. I want to, but past experience shows that in these situations I can't resist figuring out some way of shoehorning yet another adaptation into my poor thesis. But it's becoming more and more clear to me that a large part of the interestingness of successful adaptations has to do with how well films use actors' bodies and faces, and this is fully borne out by some of Wood's comments about Javier Bardem's "magnificent performance of weird authority and restraint...[t]he theory of [Chigurh's] authority is found in both the novel and the film, but it’s more powerful when it’s seen than when it’s talked about, and the novel has an understandable itch to tell us what can’t be told."

The other review of NCFOM that I've needed to think about is Jonathan Rosenbaum's for the Chicago Reader. He writes:
The picture of human nature in No Country for Old Men is...so bleak I wonder if it must provide for some a reassuring explanation for our defeatism and apathy in the face of atrocity. I admire the creativity and storytelling craft of the Coen brothers, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what use they think they’re putting that creativity and craft to. As I left the screening in Toronto, all I could think was, “America sure loves its mass murderers.”


This is pretty well unanswerable. I still think it's a great movie and for me that means it's considerably more than a triumph of perfect style over morally indefensible substance. On the other hand those fervent justifications of the film which appeal to a Jansenist conception of destiny, damnation, and the inescapable agency of Evil in the world sometimes seem to me to confirm Rosenbaum's suspicions. But. There's still something else, something less didactic and more authentically strange, justifying and underwriting the film. See Wood's last line for his effort to identify what it is. But it's possible too that I just think that because the movie is so free of other kinds of cant and trumpery.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wood's review was good - it would have been better if he'd spelled Coen correctly; 'Cohen'? The LRB editing standards are really slipping lately and far too many stupid mistakes are creeping in. Has there been some sort of editorial shake up there?

lucy tartan said...

I don't know about LRB editorial issues, but that's how the Coens spell their name.

R.H. said...

This sure ain't no country for dirty old men, that's what I've found out.

Drewzel said...

I really want to see this film, but having a precarious grasp on my mental health at the best of times, voted against it, as it would SCARE me too much. I think I'll have to go see the new Johnny Depp film instead. ha.

PS. Thanks for the Garfield link, love love love it!

patrick said...

just saw no country for old men, it's unassumingly unconventional yet (thankfully) never over-the-top. the Coen bros. deserve their Oscars; well done indeed.

Scrivener said...

I pretty much completely disagree with Rosenbaum's reading of the film. In fact, I think the film is explicitly critical of the kind of declensionist narrative that he believes the film represents. It's been a while since I saw it, and I really want to see it again, but I thought the most interesting parts of the movie concerned the very human need to construct explanative narratives about violence and death, to convince ourselves that there is a clear order to things even if that order is a bad one, when in fact the world we live in is groundless and inexplicable.

Huh. Now that I write that out, sounds kind of like my reading of the movie is influenced by Cavell's film criticism. Which strikes me as funny since I "met" you because I listed Cavell as a favorite author when I first started blogging.