A couple of weekends ago, I was camping in the wilds of rural Perthshire with a group of people I will soon be going on a trip to Borneo with in an event intended to prepare us for the dangers of camping in such a tropical climate. Unfortunately, our boredom and general awkwardness around each other meant that, on the second night, we resorted to a game of charades beside a river in a sheep field. When my turn inevitably came round, I decided to try and act out the film 'No Country For Old Men', as it was one of the batch of DVDs I had recently bought with an Amazon gift voucher. Thankfully, my friend Paul (who drove us to see Wreck It Ralph) got it after just the first word, and so my painful attempt at acting was euthanised.
As I was walking back to my seat, however, the man who was taking the camping trip and who would soon be taking everyone to Borneo appeared to think my choice of film meant I had actually seen it, and so he turned movie reviewer for a couple of minutes to vent his annoyance at the subject. He said two things about No Country For Old Men: 'I had to put subtitles on to understand a word anyone was saying, the accents were that strong', and 'That film had one of the weirdest, crappiest endings I've ever seen'.
Of course, at the time, I just smiled, nodded and tried to laugh at the correct moments, feeling it would be unnecessarily awkward to tell him that I had actually never seen it. Underneath, though, I wanted him to be wrong. As I pointed out in my first post, the Coen Brothers are my favourite directors, and No Country For Old Men is reputed to be their greatest work. So, on the first evening of the Easter holidays, I took the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about and put on the DVD.
For the first few minutes of narration over desert landscapes, I strained to understand every word that was being said in the thick Texan accent before I decided there was no point, as I could understand it quite happily anyway. Already Mark's first point had been disproved. Of course many sentences are so heavily slurred that you can't make out a word - particularly from Tommy Lee Jones - but what would the film be if it was all played out in clean, Californian accents? And you don't have to hear every word crisply to understand a character (see: Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather; Bane, The Dark Knight Rises). The characters are what make films like this, and you don't need to hear a word from Javier Bardem's already-iconic Anton Chigurh to be creeped out of your skin.
Lumbering an air canister with him wherever he goes, and sporting cinema's most misplaced bob haircut, Bardem's tall, dark and psychotic figure dominates every one of his scenes from his introduction, coldly garrotting a policeman with his handcuffs, to the later, unbearably tense scenes in which he blows locks trying to track down Josh Brolin and the money he unwittingly stole from an untouched former crime scene in the Texan desert. Chigurh slowly kills everyone who crosses his path as Tommy Lee Jones' aging sheriff Ed Tom Bell tries to stop him from reaching Brolin's Llewelyn Moss and salvaging the two million dollars that lay amongst the dead bodies in the desert. Brolin is nervous and desperate to keep the money and, later, his life, whilst Jones is tired and worn down by decades of seeing the wrong side of humanity. The cast is flawless, the acting immense.
And as for the ending, that's just the natural conclusion to the story. I don't see anything wrong with it. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, that's a weird and crappy ending. No Country For Old Men ends bleakly, without fully solving any of the problems that are picked up during the film happily and without and worries. But that's the way life happens. Maybe Mark would have preferred if Jones had tracked down Bardem, led him away in handcuffs and given the two million to a local children's charity. But, as the film's perfect tagline says, there are no clean getaways. None of the characters finish the film better than they started it. Awful, unpredictable things can happen to anyone, and they often do.
I'm pleased to say my love for the Coen brothers has only grown since watching No Country For Old Men. It demonstrates their ability to write a superbly entertaining and tense screenplay and then bring it to life on screen exactly as their brilliant minds imagined it, and you can only admire them for that. Go, watch it. If you've seen it before, watch it again. Don't worry about the subtitles.
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