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Kino Korner November 14, 2007
 
Breaking News! Coen Brothers Are Kinda Talented, Say Critics
No Country For Old Critics By Eileen Jones Browse author Email
 
 
You could feel it coming, gathering momentum, rolling toward our shores all summer and into the fall: the toxic cloud of gas resulting from a ten-thousand pompous cineastes at half-a-dozen international film festivals all coming out of screenings of No Country for Old Men and telling each other that the Coen Brothers are important American filmmakers. Now that the film’s opened and the critics are chiming in with reviews, the noxious content of the air has reached health-threat levels. The Coens, they tell us in surprised tones, are good.

No shit? These Coens are pretty gifted, huh? Guys who did The Big LebowskiMiller’s Crossing—Fargo—Raising Arizona? Not unpromising in the filmmaking department? They know which end of the camera to look through, do they? Thanks for the tip. I also hear an up-and-comer named something-Scorsese shoots a nice gangster film, and some guy named David Lynch does a mean dream sequence. That’s why they pay these critics the big bucks, to let the rest of us know about fresh talent.

You may have heard that No Country for Old Men is fairly filled with bloody havoc. It is. The mayhem is frontloaded, too, so you start right in with a strangulation death that makes you want to kick your own legs a bit in sympathy with the victim. By the last third of the film you’ve seen so much killing, and at such an unsettling off-rhythm, that your nerves feel jangled, and you expect every character you meet to die horribly any second or be spared by a miracle. The deaths toward the end, the Coens don’t even bother showing you, and you don’t know whether to be relieved or ticked off or what.

The critics who’ve now decided to approve of the Coens have to find a way to justify the violence they so deplore. Here’s Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times giving it a try: “But as the story unfolds with the awful inevitability of a modern myth, it’s clear that the Coen brothers and [novelist Cormac] McCarthy are not interested in violence for its own sake but for what it says about the world we happen to live in.”


Yeah, right. The Coens aren’t interested in violence for its own sake like the Japanese makers of samurai films aren’t interested in violence for its own sake. There’s no beauty or artistry or pleasure or kick or significance in representations of violence qua violence. Heavens no, Priscilla.

The plot is adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel but seems ready-made for the Coens, putting them back on familiar stomping grounds, the hellish Texas they showed us in their debut film, Blood Simple, way back in the Year of Our Lord 1984. It’s no coincidence that No Country starts the same way, with desolate scrubland shots and another jaded voice-over about the land that God forgot, i.e. America. In fact, No Country is such a compendium of some of the Coens greatest hits I began to fear some sort of career wrap-up. Same-type noir characters in over their heads on both sides of the law, same-type criminal enterprise gone horribly wrong, same-type confrontations with the abyss as in both Blood Simple and Fargo.

In No Country, set in 1980, a trailer-living Viet Nam vet named Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds a bag of money at the scene of a drug-dealer massacre in the sagebrush, and thinks he’s smart enough to get away with it. He isn’t, and there are unfortunate repercussions for his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), a bounty-hunting rival smart-guy (Woody Harrelson), the world-weary county Sheriff brooding over the situation (Tommy Lee Jones), and lots of others. They’ve all put themselves in the sites of Golem-like avenger Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem—you’ve seen photos by now of him in the role, with his peculiar 19th century haircut) whose preferred method of killing is a modern cattle-slaughtering device involving a compressed air tank, hose, and nozzle, a blast from which can blow a doorlock across a room without harming the rest of the door, so you can imagine its effect on the human cranium. Powerful, yet efficient. Still, a lotta blood.

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FROM THE VAULT

Abu Ghraibi Fever : Lynndie: Making Imperialism Fun

The OSCE Shuffle :
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