31 Days, 31 Movies 12/18: No Country For Old Men
And now we arrive at the part of the month that I’ve been looking forward to. The reason I wanted to do 31 days, 31 movies was to fill a lot of gaps in my film knowledge. I’ve come to accept that in doing this many embarrassing gaps in my film watching history will be exposed—on the bright side however they will also be remedied at the same time. For example, you all have just learned it took my ten years to finally get around to watching No Country for Old Men; on the other hand, the joke is on you because I have now seen the 2007 Coen Brothers’ classic. And while I am partial to 2000 (Gladiator; Snatch; American Psycho; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Requiem for a Dream; Memento; High Fidelity; Pitch Black; Remember the Titans; mother fucking Meet The Parents the list goes on) there is a solid argument that 2007 is one of, if not the best year in modern cinema. At an awkward 14–neither old enough to see the movies and not far enough removed to watch them as classics in the years to come–it remains probably the biggest gap in my film experience, I’ve seen more movies from 1931 than 2007. We’re going to fix that.
I remember my first experience with this with this movie was over the holidays in 2007 when I went up to New York to see my family as we always do. Apparently, my grandmother had seen No Country for Old Men on recommendation of some newspaper reviews. She offered up one family dinner, “Has anyone seen that new horrid picture, No Country for Old Men? It’s just too violent, I don’t know why anyone would ever want to watch something so terrible.” I was a rebellious teen at that point so at that moment I vowed to see—and love—this horribly violent picture.
The Coen Brothers would have you believe that No Country For Old Men is a crime thriller. That’s bullshit; this is the greatest greatest horror movie of all time–apologies to The Shining and Psycho I may have gotten ahead of myself there. But really No Country for Old Men is an incredible horror movie; it has all the elements: an inexplicable seemingly supernatural villain, a hero who is smart enough to root for but dumb enough to get themselves into this situation in the first place, and silence–eerie, unrelenting silence. And a little bit of blood too. Like seemingly every man out there I’ve always loved the Coen Brothers directing style because it feels so distinct, in that every Coen Brothers movie feels like it couldn’t have possibly been directed or written by anyone else, but they also feel so diverse. To think that the same two guys that made Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit also made The Big Lebowski, Hail Caesar!, and Burn After Reading. In No Country, Joel and Ethan Coen lean into the darkness of their main villain like they rarely do, their penchant for dark comedy is not gone but it is scaled back. Instead the charm of No Country is how it never lets you turn away, its methodical, deliberate pace draws out the moments of tension so an almost unbearable extreme. My favorite example of the Coens’ mastery of tension and the use of silence is when Sheriff Bell is paused in front of the motel room door and it cuts to inside with the beam of light the blown out padlock. The shot of Javier Bardem gives me chills just thinking about it.
The cast of this movie is insane. The fourth billed star is Woody Harrelson who comes in about 20 minutes into the movie pitches two perfect quarters and is unceremoniously dispatched a half hour later. I could wax poetic about Josh Brolin or Kelly Macdonald, I could talk about how Tommy Lee Jones recaptures the magic that was his performance in The Fugitive, but we all know what we’re here for. Javier Bardem, an actor who I have mixed feelings about, he is an undeniably talented actor but until recent years I never cared for his performances, despite how skilled they are. Biutiful, was too brooding and nihilistic to enjoy watching, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona–a movie that has aged very poorly through no fault of anyone but Woody Allen–remains a strange Javier Bardem role. Maybe you have to be attracted to him and his accent but it just wasn’t doing it for me. But in No Country Bardem he is sickeningly brilliant. Many charismatic villains you find yourself rooting for despite yourself; everyone wants Lefty Ruggiero to win, Hannibal Lecter literally kills and wears a mans face and we’re all cool with it, I’m not even 100% sure Norman Bates is the villain, and of course every gangster movie ever made. No Country for Old Men and Bardem have no interest in you rooting for Anton Chigurh, quite the opposite, you have to loathe him for the final scene where Chigurh walks away from the car crash to work. The audience has to look on in horror as this seemingly unkillable, irredeemable man limps off. Bardem works every seen masterfully to the point where you’re screaming at the end credits to fuck off.
What more is there to say about this Coen Brothers masterpiece that hasn’t been stated already? Bardem and the rest of the cast adapt this Cormac MacCarthy novel into a thrilling and harrowing cinematic feat. Despite all it’s stillness No Country never feels slow, quite the opposite its a surprising 2-hour film that feels like it wraps in one.