First, in my sci-fi class was Terry Gilliam’s fucking brilliant Brazil. I’ve seen before and studied it just as many times so it wasn’t anything new, but it’s still just as zany and as goddamn terrifying. Brazil is, basically, about TODAY, and it still astounds me how Gilliam was able to predict everything going wrong even down to my malfunctioning iPod. Better call Central Services.
Then I went to see The Spirit of the Beehive, a Spanish movie set during Spain’s Civil War about a sad little girl with a serious longing to die. Her family is absent the entire time – they’re never in the same shot together – so the girl has to turn to her imagination, much like Sam Lowry in Brazil, to cope. It’s slow and ponderous and, okay, pretty boring as the movie uses its 90 minute running time for long spells of silence and overstretched views of Spanish plains so it feels much longer than an hour and a half. Brazil is funny, this is just depressing.
Then I saw No Country for Old Men, the latest from The Coen Brothers.
The story is simple: good ‘ol boy Llewellyn (Josh Brolin) finds $2 million out in the Texas desert and a psycho killer (Javier Bardem) hunts him down to retrieve the money. Meanwhile, an old sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to make sense of the carnage they leave in their wake. That’s about the gist of it. Like the book by Cormac McCarthy it’s based on the characters in the movie don’t explain their actions, they just act and we watch in suspense at the bloodletting that follows. There’s barely any music at all and often no dialogue so the only sound is the flying and impact of bullets on wood, car doors and flesh. Like Fargo, there are interludes of humor and pontification about how the world is spinning out of control and how life is based solely on chance. Llewellyn just happens to chance upon the money just as the sheriff just misses Bardem at the scene of a crime. Bardem carries a coin around like Two-Face from Batman and, well, you can guess what kind of decisions he makes with it.
Bardem easily steals the show, with his Prince Valiant haircut and dead watery eyes, and the movie deftly make you dread his approach. When the camera focuses low to the floor on his footstep and a giant fucking sodacan-sized silencer on his shotgun, you know a lot of people are going to die. Josh Brolin never explains himself to anybody, not even his poor wife (Kelly Macdonald), but he was still easy to sympathize with especially as he limps around bleeding to death on the run from Mexican drug runners and white managerial types like Woody Harrelson, who shows up later to try and reel Bardem back in. This is probably the first role of Woody’s that didn’t rub me the wrong way since Natural Born Killers, maybe because he’s not a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ the way he did in A Scanner Darkly. But I digress.
Tommy Lee Jones, born to play Texan sheriffs, lends the movie the brunt of its existential weight since he can do nothing but observe the killings after they occur. Already bitter before the story begins it’s obvious his joys in life are gone, sitting in a diner, reading the latest disturbing headlines, watching younger generations throw away their lives for false causes (the film’s post-war time frame is telling). His eyes, just barely peeking out from underneath wrinkly old man skin, are sad and small and make him look like he’s begging for someone to hug him and tell him everything’s okay. But that would be a flat-out lie and he would know it, though he’ll be polite and maybe laugh a little for comfort’s sake.
No Country for Old Men revels in its pessimism, fitting comfortably between Brazil’s gallows humor and The Spirit of the Beehive’s apocalyptic gloom. There is no euphoria or delight to be found here, except for extremely fine filmmaking. It’s invigorating to finally see another movie this year that can seriously be enjoyed for its merits as ~*A SERIOUS FILM*~ and not as an ironic stroll down nostalgic lane like, say, Transformers. Congratulations to the Coens for sticking to the book so closely and for crafting their best, bloodiest movie in years.
P.S.: The ending, while faithful to the source, will divide and outright frustrate people. At my screening one lady next to me yelled aloud “What the fuck?!” as if some grievous error was wrought upon her and she wanted everyone in earshot to know her obnoxious displeasure. I say, with the utmost capacity of film snobbery, she missed the fucking point. I’ve heard the complaint all over. Patrons and critics debase the movie’s purported “cliches” then whine they didn’t get the generic Western finale they wanted. Such doublethink is bullshit. The movie ended that way for a reason. Why not discuss it with your doughy date?
P.P.S.: This was the first movie I’ve seen in theaters in months and I was reminded how fucking lame the movie theater experience can be, at least in New York City. The loud-as-shit ads are the worst. Try having a conversation with someone while some fuck is doing impressions for his new TBS show on the screen. Jesus Christ, I so desperately wanted to change the channel. Oh, wait, I was in a movie theater. Could’ve fooled me. Cue 8000 more shitty commercials loud enough to wake a million Snorlax. Snorlaxes?
I’d go on and on and on but now I understand completely why folks would rather wait for the DVD than deal with, well, crap. Plus, this isn’t The Soapbox Factory. One good thing: the trailer for the new Daniel Day-Lewis movie kept the misanthropy flowing.
But see No Country for Old Men.