Friday, December 07, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Much has already been said, critically and otherwise, about No Country for Old Men’s “hunter becoming the hunted” and the prospects of Javier Bardem winning an Oscar (which would be great). While such clichés citing overt and somewhat elementary symbolism flow like sentimentalism from a Spielberg movie, the more sinister and indicting themes at the core of this story confound such reductive criticism while demanding attention. Contrary to the popular notions of chic hipsters, Country doesn’t settle for merely achieving pop-genre status but, like many of the great films, resists simple classification and generalization to the effect of appealing to multiple tastes and sensibilities while being pointedly insightful. Of course the tense story and action, paced by remarkable editing, grabs our focus as well as our concern. But where the film becomes the most fascinating is in its acute awareness of cultural politics in America.

Although Llewelyn Moss is a sympathetic character who gets drawn into a treacherous stalking match, it’s significant that we understand him as a truly opportunistic guy who is determined to keep a bundle of money he gained by shady chance. That this money is someone else’s never deters him from trying to keep it even though he clearly understands that doing so puts him and his family at terrible risk. This act seems to characterize more of the McMahonian notion of capitalist expectation than one would normally assign to a poor schmuck being stalked by a raging psychopath. To ignore this and idealize a protagonist’s morally dubious actions based on our empathetic support is a remarkably dangerous practice and one that is deftly exploited by the Coens and award winning novelist, Cormac McCarthy.

Similarly, at the center of the film’s parade of ubiquitous and abrupt violence is the idea that no one is exempt and punishment (or dire consequence), however unjust, is inevitable. The fact that neither lawful nor vigilante retribution has a marked effect on minimizing the imminent brutality that Anton Chigurh brings further parallels a culture muddled in paradox and misconception. This is not to say that the film promotes fatalism, but only that it has its finger on the proverbial button of our societal conundrum of violence and terror. As Sherriff Bell’s narration brilliantly bookends the film, we understand the layered and self reflexive irony that veterans returning from conflict are doomed to relive the same madness at home.

No Country for Old Men evokes a haunting vision of social anxiety in America, defying our best efforts to evade responsibility in a way that could generically be considered post neo-western-noir. Despite the ambiguity of such categorization, we could also surmise that the Coen’s have made a masterful adaptation of a striking novel. More importantly, however, the filmmakers appear to have not only been faithful but have had faith in their source material – a virtue to be sure. If artists continue to make comparable renderings because of such stark and relevant works (i.e. if Moss really is America’s redneck Everyman) then our cultural position is bleak indeed.

Assessment: Many stars

[Previously posted @ Boast]

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Juno is that indie misfit movie that you fear it is except it is very good and very funny. The script by Diablo Cody is a lot of fun. The story moves very well and the comedy accompanies and surrounds the drama but never smothers it. Many of the little details that make up the world of Juno are really brilliant and it's easy to appreciate the writing effort. In fact the film feels very written for better or worse. But what is really nice is that the quirky details actually pay off in some form. In retrospect, There are some structural short cuts towards the end but they are easy to forgive. When Juno finds out that her perfect couple is splitting up she is faced with a dilemma. How does she overcome this dilemma? She pulls over to the side of the road and thinks about it for a while and then decides it's ok. I guess you could say she grew up in that moment but it felt like a bit of a short cut to me. Jason Reitman, does a good job of allowing the film to play both seriously and ridiculously by finding the right tone. Consider the entire scene where Bateman tells Juno he is leaving. It walks a fine line. There are however two scenes that just don't work. The opening scene at the drugstore with Rainn Wilson tries too hard but there are some funny bits. Also the asian girl picketing the abortion clinic doesn't work - but Ellen Page saves it with her story of the Cracken. Ellen Page plays Juno in pretty much the same way as her character in Hard Candy. For the most part she is believable as a 16 year old but a more heightened, sped-up version. The supporting cast is all very good, especially Michael Cera and Jason Bateman. I heard a film critic say that either Michael Cera is the best actor in the world or he is just like his character in this movie. In either case, it's important that you like him for this film to work. I liked him. The soundtrack is good too, mostly the Moldy Peaches, but there is a kinks song (well respected man) and I'm glad somebody stole them back from Wes Anderson.