Film Review: No Country For Old Men

I said in my last film review for 2 Days In New York that I felt recently that I was becoming overly harsh in my thoughts, or that I had just been watching a load of rubbish recently and so to address this balance, I searched the “to watch…” pile for something that essentially shouldn’t let me down. And salvation was found in Joel and Ethan Coen’s, No Country For Old Men.

I am a big fan of the Coen Brothers’ work. You just have to read my reviews of Inside Llewyn Davis and A Serious Man to see that while I may not always believe in everything they do, I rate their films highly and enjoy their work. And knowing that No Country For Old Men is regarded as arguably the Coen’s best work and having picked up a decent amount of gold statues, I felt I was in pretty safe hands.

And so it turned out to be. As with a lot of their films, No Country For Old Men has a shallow, simplistic plot into which the main characters are woven so the depth and enjoyment comes from their interaction and how they play off one another rather than the environment they are set in. Sometimes this overly basic narrative can leave a film feeling slightly distant and withdrawn from it’s audience but thankfully the performances of the leading 3 actors – Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones – is of such near perfection that this risk is instantly forgotten. They draw you into their lives rather than you pushing yourself onto them and asking to be let in.

This isn’t, however, always a good thing as it means that for parts of the film, you start to tire of the same 3 characters tied up in one long game of cat and mouse and when you look for anything more, anything to keep you focused, it can be lacking. At no point did my mind start to wander or really withdraw from the screen but there were times when I just started to think that I’ve got the point and it’s time to move on to the next.

My other problem with this film is that everything is in that chase, that game of cat and mouse, but it takes place at such a slow pace that while this works admirably to create fear, tension and suspense the speed at which these emotions build and the way they are brought together means they never really get to you. There is a true and strong sense of “what’s going to happen next” but it never pushes you to the edge of your seat, it never really grabs you. My pulse never really increased.

And this means that when the game finally ends, when good and bad finally meet up, it’s taken so long to get there and backed itself into such a corner emotionally that it’s left with no where to turn and as such, has to rely more on implications and twists to create it’s conclusions and ending rather than any one big climatic scene. Now, this lack of a “Hollywood” ending for me, actually and surprisingly, works to the benefit of the film. Yes, it’s unfulfilling to a certain degree but it’s not disappointing. It just rounds off the tale in a fitting way.

The thing is though, these faults lie with the source text, which is Cormac McCarthy‘s novel of the same name and while the Coen’s wrote the script, they for once stayed true to the source, and therefore, I don’t think you can really blame the them for the way the narrative holds the film back emotionally. Especially considering, that visually this really is the Coen’s at their finest. The cinematography and post production is brilliant, it’s the pre-production where the problems all stem from.

Don’t let any of this put you off it though. It is slow, and it is lacking in layers and I don’t hold it quite in the same rose tinted light as some, but for me, I can see why people said it was the Coen Brothers’ best film and I am glad, that after such a run of watching rubbish, Joel and Ethan, as usual didn’t let me down.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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