No Country for Old Men (2007)

2009 #5
Joel & Ethan Coen | 117 mins | DVD | 15 / R

This review contains major spoilers.

When I saw No Country for Old Men, a new round of films were vying for the Best Picture Oscar. Now, as I finally post my review, a whole new load have been nominated, voted on, and await the final result. Sometimes I feel decidedly behind the times.

The first time I watched No Country for Old Men was in a screenwriting seminar. On R2 DVD (the format for said seminar) it runs one hour 57 minutes, but in the two-hour seminar we got through the whole film with plenty of pauses for discussion (of its narrative structure, with particular emphasis on the application of fate/chance/coincidence, if you’re interested). Obviously this entailed skipping chunks of the film to get to the end within the time. I was rather annoyed that our tutor hadn’t bothered to forewarn us this would be the subject of the seminar in such a way, because it meant I had no chance to see the film properly beforehand. Now, watching the film in full, I can clearly see the odd bit we skipped over, yet I don’t feel I missed anything terribly significant.

Cut short or no, it has an excellent use of no music — the Coens still create massive amounts of tension, numerous shocks, etc. It’s highly skilled direction and editing. There are a number of very good scenes along the way (even if the best remains somewhat dulled from constant repetition in the run up to the 2008 Oscars). And it all looks mighty pretty too, especially on Blu-ray (my re-watch format of choice here). The cinematography was probably my favourite part of the film.

As noted, it’s really about Fate, randomness, chance. Some clearly think this brilliant; I remain unconvinced. It lacks satisfaction. Maybe that’s real life — no, that is real life: random and lacking closure and satisfaction. But this isn’t real life, it’s a movie; and a movie with a near-fantasy (or, more accurately, horror) aspect too, in its unstoppable villain; so I think I want my proper tied-together plot, thank you very much, not a de facto hero who’s shot almost at random by a gang who have little to do with the story and a frequently irritating villain who exits the film fundamentally unscathed.

I’ve read one critic assert No Country for Old Men is the only worthy Best Picture winner of the past decade. I’ve seen another argue There Will Be Blood is the only genuine classic produced in the noughties. Any number of them have no doubt espoused similar such views. Critics, eh — always contradictory.

Anyway, No Country for Old Men: thoroughly unsatisfying,

4 out of 5

Originally posted on 5th March 2010.

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