Tuesday, December 11, 2007


To me it seemed like NO MOVIE FOR OLD MEN. At least this old man.

Some incredible acting and directing and cinematography. And since I didn’t read the novel it was based on, I can’t judge how well it was adapted. I read some of Cormac McCarthy’s earlier novels and dug them, but after a while, the bleakness and seriousness, and if not out-and-out macho, then the old-style-rugged-individual-masculine perspective just wore my already weary old-style-rugged-individual-masculine ass out.

He’s a really fine writer. And I suspect the novel is a beautiful document to read, in terms of word choice and sentence structure and paragraph building and imagery—as well as the lyricism of the cynicism. Because this movie is deeply cynical, and I assume that came from the book.

The Coen brothers are hit-and-miss, at least with this movie lover. BLOOD SIMPLE knocked me out. FARGO gave me great pleasure. MILLER’S CROSSING, despite my friends’ raves, I ultimately was disappointed by. As I am by NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, despite my friends’ raves.

Not that it isn’t great film-making. They had me from the first shot. I was so tense from the way they moved the plot forward, damn, I was thinking, this is some seriously beautiful movie making.

And then suddenly, there was a glitch. Maybe I think too much like a writer, and maybe in the novel it made sense. But the sheriff—played so perfectly, as always, by one of the masters of film acting, Tommy Lee Jones—suddenly his character, who seems so wise in so many ways, has no idea what the bad guy looks like, despite the fact people have seen him. Why wouldn’t he ask (and I’m not giving too much away here) the woman who ran the trailer park? Unless something happened to her we didn’t see and I was supposed to infer, even though there’s no references to it.

That distracted me, which it shouldn’t have. Then more imponderables, in terms of plot, began to pile up. Unbelievable coincidences and timing and stupidities and impossibilities. All looking very good, with lots of realistic blood and wounds, but to what end?

An end that left me feeling cheated. I could talk round the clock for several years about all the bad things I have witnessed or learned about from others or studied or experienced from one side or the other. As most of us could I'm sure. And we all know how messed up the world is right now, as it often is, and all the damage that has been done in the last several years by the Bushies and right-wingers, and Osama and other fundamentalist extremists of the big three faiths, and Putin and all kinds of tin-pot dictators and war lords and so on.

All that's hard to live with, and if I had witnessed some of it first-hand, in Iraq or Afghanistan or Darfur or Somalia or the Congo or etendlesslycetera, I would probably be totally cynical and despondent and deeply disturbed. But I also might have had some positive experiences and knowledge and maybe even some gratitude to balance that out.

What have the Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy experienced or witnessed or know that I don’t that led them to the conclusion of this movie, where, I concede there is a drop of faith in goodness past, and maybe hope that it’s waiting on the other side, but otherwise, ultimately, just deep deep gloom.

Last time I was in Hollywood, it was bad on the street level, but nowhere near this bad, and as far as I know the Coens live far from the street. And as for Texas, it may be no country for old men, but I suspect it’s a lot tougher for the illegals and other non-whites along with poor white folks—like some characters in this movie are supposed to represent, like those that work at WalMart—than it is for Cormac McCarthy.

But then, in my perspective, the critics and the intellectuals and a lot of creators who come from privileged backgrounds often swoon over cynicism and depressing subject matter and negative perspectives on life and its ugly “realities” and a kind of helplessness in the face of evil. I’m generalizing broadly here but I think it’s valid—ala Cormac McCarthy, well-educated, never served in a war, son of a prominent highly successful lawyer, and the Coen brothers, also non-war-veterans, sons of college professors etc., or my usual examples: Bill Burroughs, the well-educated scion of hereditary wealth who wrote and behaved as if surrounded by all out evil coming to get him and the rest of us, with his cache of weapons he never needed to use on anyone at all, except the wife he killed in a supposed accident when attempting to shoot a cocktail glass off her head—or well-educated, wealth-accumulating, bad-boy-of-business-school Mick Jagger et. al, as opposed to say Kerouac and John Lennon, who suffered death and loss and dysfunction and cruelty and dropped out of school and were “working-class heroes” who spent most of their lives overcoming depression and cynicism and alcoholism and addiction, struggling to create work that attempted to transcend the cynical, even if only metaphysically, ala Kerouac, whether intentionally or just by nature, and have been dismissed by many critics and intellectuals as juvenile or na├»ve or etc.).

So the critics will probably swoon over this movie. In fact they already have. As well may you, which you obviously are entitled to do. But for me, I’ll take the depressing realities, but with underlying goodness in there somewhere, of GONE BABY GONE or INTO THE WILD or MICHAEL CLAYTON, and leave NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN to anybody but this one.


-K- said...

I can't think of a single Coen Bros. film in which poor white people haven't been the target of their disdain.

Have they ever made a movie in which any of their main characters have been rich, smart, Jewish, and/or New York-based?

It's beginning to bug me.

Lally said...

BARTON FINK to some extent. But that one bugged me too with the fantasy elements overwhelming what might have been an interesting take on Hollywood and Jewish intellectual/leftist writers (ala Clifford Odets). But you know I forgot to mention O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? which is one of my all time favorite flicks.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, NO COUNTRY saps your will to live right in your cushy movie seat! Amen to your post.

I saw Miller's Crossing recently, for the first time, and isn't the most awful, two-faced character (according to the script) Turturro's, and isn't he Jewish?

And O BROTHER is one of the best films they've done, but can they take the whole credit for it when it's based on a classic?

And the phenom you describe - those well-fed, well-off not having an idea of what real suffering is - reminds me of something my mother said (altho it doesn't support what you've said exactly). She loved scary movies and I asked her why - she said that because she knew they were fake, she could enjoy them. That real terror was a drunk husband who doesn't come home while your boy is having yet another asthma attack at 11pm on a Sunday night, and you're going to have to call a cab and drag his two siblings out of bed to the ER for help.