Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Coens’ attempt at ‘Old’ form comes up short

As the pioneers of postmodern cinema, filmmakers Joel and
Ethan Coen ("The Big Lebowski") have currently departed from their progressive
methodology. In recent years, they have taken a step backward stylistically,
becoming iconoclasts against their own technique by delivering unremarkable
Hollywood fare, such as "Intolerable Cruelty" in 2003, and the equally
"Intolerable" remake of "The Ladykillers" in 2004.

Unfortunately, after a three-year hiatus and two forays into
typical industry schlock, Joel and Ethan have not completely regained their
appetite for cinematic art in their latest film, "No Country for Old Men."

The Coens' screenplay was adapted from Pulitzer Prize-winner
Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel about an aging Texas sheriff and the events
following a spoiled drug deal. Being the movie buffs they are, the novel's
mixture of crime and western genres — two categories with a rich history in
film — seems like the perfect foundation the Coen Brothers would need to wield
their cinematic knowledge.


However, the final result does not feel like a solid effort.
"No Country for Old Men" ends up being a tragedy in three acts, for its
characters as well as its audience.

The film is framed with two monologues by Ed Tom Bell (Tommy
Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah"), the sheriff of Terrell Country. Bell's
first monologue is a commentary on the changing times with respect to violence.
The increasing senseless acts of violence that Bell observes over his tenure as
Sheriff have a grave effect on him. His hopeless expressions closely parallel
those of Marge Gunderson's (Frances McDormand) in "Fargo," Joel and Ethan
Coen's magnum opus from 1996. Despite these characters' mutual sentimentality,
Sheriff Bell is simply an observer — lacking the admirable heroics of Marge
Gunderson — who offers no meaning or resolution to the actions depicted in the

"No Country for Old Men" was filmed by the Coen Brothers'
resident cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has been behind the camera for
every Coen outfit since "Barton Fink" in 1991. Deakins shoots the first section
of the picture with adherence to the visual style that the Old West deserves.
His consideration of the wide open terrain beautifully resembles a John Ford

Complementary to Deakins' photography is the Sergio
Leone-like pace of the film's opening. This slow and steady tempo leads to the
directors' clash of Wild West cinematography with modern narrative. "No Country
for Old Men" is a neo-Western, exchanging train robberies for heroine deals,
horses for Ford pick-up trucks and six shooters for a captive bolt pistol — a
far cry from the wood chipper used to dispose of  Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) in "Fargo,"
but still offering the extreme violence that the Coen Brothers are known for.

Once the "Country" is visually established, viewers are
introduced to Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, "American Gangster"), the yokel who
stumbles upon the $2 million left over from the bloody drug deal. Moss, who is as
bad at hunting antelope as he is at getting away with a large sum of money that
is not his, is quickly pursued by Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, "Collateral"),
the psychopathic "owner" of the money.

The Coens' second act is a series of smart and authentic
suspense as Chigurh chases Moss across southern Texas and into Mexico. Moss and
Chigurh's engagements are a delight to watch, but it is hard to know whom to
root for. The hollowed-out Moss is no Shane — we simply do not care whether he
lives or dies.

Since the Coens' disregard distinction between the good and
the bad, "No Country for Old Men" becomes only a search to see what Chigurh
will do next. His violent and unpredictable actions are a perfect fit for a Coen
film, but like Bell and Moss, he possesses the same murky demeanor. "What's the
most you've ever lost in a coin toss?" asks Chigurh as he shares philosophical
dialogue with a would-be victim, letting the man's fate ride on the chance of
heads or tails. But for most of the film, Chigurh is shooting first and asking
questions later.

The craft of "No Country for Old Men" is undeniable, but it
suffers a fate similar to that of its characters when Joel and Ethan don't keep
up their end of the bargain in the final act of the film. With such antipathy
between Moss and Chigurh, most Western enthusiasts will expect one final
showdown involving the two gunslingers, but disappointingly the film takes a
solemn turn toward the anticlimactic.

We are left with nothing more than the closing
monologue by Ed Tom Bell. His commentary — this time a description of his dream
from the previous night — again dwells on the security of the past. Sheriff
Bell's desire for this old world safety has become nothing but a dream, while
the Coen Bothers' dream of ressurectting their previous style has turned into
the most disappointing Western since "Heaven's Gate."

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