Monday, 4 February 2008

Review: No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men is quite simply a great film. At its base, it’s a crime thriller, but it has elements of horror, dark comedy and, given the setting, the feel of an old Western. These elements are combined expertly by the Coen brothers to produce a film that refuses to be pigeonholed and revels in its eccentricities.

The story follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) as they chase across the country after two million dollars from a drug deal gone bad. Brolin and Jones do excellently as a hunter and an aging sheriff respectively, but Bardem absolutely steals the show as a sociopathic assassin. He manages to be terrifying without ever raising his voice or seeming to lose his cool, and the questions surrounding him go mostly unanswered, as he appears and disappears throughout the film, following the money trail and sticking to his twisted moral code.

The film is implicitly violent, and the violence is part of the story, but manages to avoid being gruesome or gratuitous. There are some hugely violent moments, but they are over almost before you realise it, and the majority of the tension in the film comes from the chase and anticipated violence, rather than that explicitly on screen. And the tension itself is excellently controlled – there were lulls, certainly, and a winding down towards the end, but there is always a feeling of threat, and when they want to, the Coens can get your pulse racing like the best of them.

The cinematography is excellent, as the film takes us from the open desert to small towns, to suburbia, and feels authentic and realistic throughout, with some amazing desert vistas on show, particularly towards the beginning of the movie.

I always find it refreshing when I get to the end of a film and find myself not only wanting to see it again because it was enjoyable, but also because I know that I missed a huge amount of information. I’m quite willing to say that on a first viewing, I didn’t get Tommy Lee Jones’ character at all, but by the end it was clear that his was, if not the most important character, then certainly of equal importance with any other. I know that there were conversations and monologues that I missed (partly because I was watching rather than listening, partly because I made the mistake of thinking that what was being said was window-dressing), and I know that on a second viewing I will pay more attention to everything. Because there are multiple stories being told here, and I know that I could only appreciate the most simplistic, the most graphic and the most visual of them at a first attempt.

Don’t expect, then, a simple thriller. There is one present, but it is one strand of a winding story that is told in such a careful and clever way that you barely notice it. Indeed, I was so unused to watching films of this subtlety, that certainly I missed more than I should have. The ending made me grin wider than I have grinned at almost any other film ending with the thought that not only had I enjoyed myself with the most superficial viewing of the film, but that there was a huge amount more to get out of it on subsequent viewings.

Giving a film full marks should not be taken as implying that it is the perfect film, whatever that means. Instead, it means what I have been trying to say here; that this is a brilliantly conceived, adapted, constructed and executed story, with excellent acting, pacing and direction. It is a hugely enjoyable film to watch once, and immediately suggests itself for multiple viewings. Ultimately, what more can you ask for?

Verdict: A magnificent, deep, thoroughly enjoyable thriller, with more to it than might meet the eye initially. Excels in every aspect. 10/10

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