Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Country for Old Men

When I tell people I travel for work, most people say, “You’re so lucky, that’s so fantastic!” What people don’t understand is how lonely it really can be. You’re at the airport by yourself, you’re at the hotel by yourself, you’re driving by yourself, etc., etc. I finally found something that breaks up my trips nicely. I’ve taken to going to the movies while I’m out of town. I’ll go to Yahoo! Movies, type in the zip code of my hotel, and figure out what’s playing where. I’ll pick my movies based on a few things: what will I NOT see at home? What movies are playing that Gina might not want to see? What am I willing to see by myself?

This past Oscar weekend found me in Seattle. I was originally excited to go to Seattle because I have a great friend who lives up there. When I told her my travel plans, she regretfully told me she was heading to San Francisco the same weekend. Sigh. Anyway, as it was Oscar weekend, and I had only seen one Oscar film, I told myself I’d go see “No Country for Old Men,” since it seemed to be the favorite to win. I did have some concern that maybe this wasn’t a movie I should be seeing by myself, but I put the concern aside and went to the Pacific Place AMC in downtown Seattle and took in a 7:10 show.

I had heard/read so many great things about this movie, I would be lying if I said my hopes weren’t high. I also have enjoyed the Coen Brothers’ offerings through the years, with the exception of “O Brother Whereart Thou,” and even that movie was not a movie I hated, but rather a movie that I felt was overrated.

Possible Spoiler warning

The movie has three main characters: Llewelyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin; Anton Chigur, played by Javier Bardem; and Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Ed Tom Bell is the weatherworn sheriff of the small Texas town, Llewelyn is the typical lower-class huntin’ Texan, and Anton Chigur is the local devil incarnate. The movie spends a whole lot of time following Llewelyn and Anton on the most terrifying cat and mouse game ever, one where the mouse has a suitcase full of 2 million dollars, and the cat has a compressed-air cattle gun that he’s not afraid to use… on people. On the fringes and peppered throughout is Ed Tom Bell commenting on life, sheriffhood, and getting old. The movie is beautifully shot, and brilliantly directed. The way the Coen Brothers handle suspense is Hitchockian at its worst and unparalleled at its best.

Here’s the problem with this movie, and this is where the spoiler will come in. This movie is not about the cat and mouse game. This movie is about Ed Tom Bell getting older and being disappointed in life, but being totally unafraid of what’s next. The meatiest scences, to me, were the scenes where Ed Tom was expounding on the times already gone. I mean, the movie is called “No Country for Old Men.” “Old Men” is Ed Tom Bell. It’s not Anton Chigur or Llewelyn Moss. And to me, the problem was that the Coens didn’t want to decide what kind of movie they were making, and it’s almost like they fleshed out the two ancillary stories instead of the one that really matters. And what irks me even more is I feel like they did this because they could, because they are the Coens, and they will do as they please, thank you very much. This was confirmed by the way Tall Coen reacted to getting the award. Sure his words made him seem thankful, but his manner was so unimpressed with the whole thing. And I know they’re not Hollywood, but they just had the better part of 6500 of their peers tell them that they’re movie was the best movie they had seen all year. You cut out the red carpet, the cameras, the glamour, the tuxes, the designers, the jewelry, and even the golden statue, that’s still a pretty big deal. Tall Coen said that when he and Short Coen were younger, they used to make little movies on their own about whatever they wanted, and it feels like they still do that, and they’re grateful for that opportunity. It’s true – they just make whatever movie they want, and it doesn’t matter that you don’t see when one of the main characters gets killed, or one minute you see the bad guy behind the door and the next second he’s nowhere to be found. It doesn’t matter that you’re telling the wrong story in the movie – it doesn’t matter because you’re the COENS. You can do whatever you want.

Having said all of that, I liked the movie overall, I just didn’t think it was anywhere close to the best movie of the year. I’m not purporting to know what the hell I’m talking about, but as a moviegoer and someone who appreciates character driven movies, this movie disappointed me. The Ed Tom Bell storyline was great, and I wanted more of it… I’m curious to find out what story the book tells.

In case you’re wondering, I wanted Juno to win. Yes, it was the only other film I saw, but I loved every minute of it, and can’t think of a better movie I saw all year. Next order of business: join Producer’s Guild so that I don’t have to leave my house to see movies next awards season.

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