Thursday, February 7, 2008

No Country For Old Men

I have a confession that will likely shock many: I can't stand the Cohen Brothers' movies. I know, they're supposed to be a do-no-wrong cinematic double threat and all right-thinking cineasts are expected to bow down to their genius, but I really don't enjoy their work. Any of it. I find their comedies, like Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski unfunny and I find their "artsy" dramas, like Fargo and Blood Simple tedius and unappealing. Their latest, No Country For Old Men is no different and I really can't understand how it got nominated for so many Oscars. The plot follows a man who stumbles across the grisly scene of a drug deal gone bad, steals the money, and goes on the run from a psychopathic mob hitman. It's a slow-paced quiet movie that somehow also manages to be graphically violent - countless people (and two dogs) are either shot or are killed by a cattle-slaughtering device. In an attempt at justifying this mess, the whole sprawling ordeal is punctuated with old men ruminating on their mortality and rambling on about the old days, weather things are worse now, and how the old-timers would have faced modern crimes. Then the movie ends. Nothing is solved, there's no closure of any kind, the movie just sort of decides to stop. If the movie is an exploration of mortality, it never develops the ideas enough to make an impact. If it's just supposed to be just a grisly crime story, it gets muddled in its slow pace and attempts at a "message."

There are two things I can credit the Cohen brothers for, though. First, they're great at casting - especially the small roles like the gas station attendant and the hotel clerk. These are real-live folksy folks and I don't know where the brothers find them. Also, Javier Bardem was an unusual, but ultimately interesting choice for Anton Chigur, the dead-eyed assassin. Second, they write great dialogue. They have an especially good ear for colloquial dialects. If they could cast and write dialogue for other peoples' movies and avoid making any more of their own, it would be an ideal situation.

No Country For Old Men is up for eight Academy Awards. It looks outmatched for Adapted Screenplay, Sound, Sound mixing, Editing, and Cinematography. The brothers, Joel and Ethan, share a nomination for Best Director, but barring an upset, they probably won't win. The film's best bet is its Best Supporting Actor bid for Javier Bardem, who steals the movie with an admittedly chilling performance. As for Best Picture, No Country doesn't get my pick, but strong Academy support could, unfortunately, prove me wrong.

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