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March 11, 2008

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DVD of the Week – No Country For Old Men (2007)

by HELEN GEIB

When Rishi, Geoff, and I published our “ten best films of 2007” lists, No Country For Old Men jumped out as the only title to appear on all three lists, and on each quite high in the ranking. That’s just one more testimonial to the broad critical appeal of a film that was awarded the Academy Award for best picture and was the subject of overwhelmingly favorable critics’ reviews. No Country is a masterful film and a great achievement for co-directors and writers Joel and Ethan Coen.

No Country fared less well with the public. For a serious drama without obvious audience appeal beyond the promise of artistic merit, it performed extremely well at the box office (and is the Coens’ highest grossing film to date), but it was often greeted with dismay and incomprehension.

Following the initial slate of reviews, No Country reappeared in print and online media as the subject of a disquisition on the reasons for its sometimes poor reception. The consensus opinion, and one I share, is that the problem does not lie with the violent happenings or downbeat conclusion in and of themselves, but rather with the way events are presented– and occasionally not presented. The subtlety and unconventionality of the storytelling are exhilarating to critics jaded with familiar cinematic devices, but the very aspects of the film that make it particularly rewarding to dedicated film lovers also make it a difficult film for casual moviegoers.

For its admirers, and I hasten to note that the circle of admirers extends well beyond the limits of the nation’s film critics, No Country For Old Men is a powerful and rewarding film of palpable intelligence and conviction. Script, performances, direction, cinematography, production design, and indeed all elements of the filmmaking are of the highest caliber. It is still playing in some theaters and I urge you to see it on the big screen. If you miss it in the theater, see it on DVD. This is an important film.

Other new releases this week: August Rush, Bee Movie, Dan In Real Life, Hitman, Nancy Drew, Saawariya, Sleuth, Summer Palace, Vanaja


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mar 11 2008

    just watched no country for old men, it’s unassumingly unconventional yet (thankfully) never over-the-top. the Coen bros. deserve their Oscars; well done indeed.

  2. Mar 13 2008

    After I watched No Country, I wasn’t sure what to think of it, except that it’s not what you think of as Oscar material. I have to give the Academy credit for recognizing a film that’s pretty postmodern.

    That said, it was the obvious choice, given that they couldn’t give anyone Best Actor and it obviously needed an award.

  3. Sep 27 2009

    This movie is the best that I watched recently. The plot is very original and intriguing. I was surprised by the fact that Tommy Lee Jones did nothing during whole movie, he was just appearing here and there, but he didn’t affected development of story at all.

  4. Helen
    Sep 29 2009

    Yes, the fact that Jones’ lawman character is effectively a non-actor in the story really works against our expectations. It also works to reinforce the perception the film creates of the characters as passive participants in their own lives; the intersection car crash offering the final proof that control is an illusion.

  5. Nir Shalev
    Oct 26 2009

    Ed Tom Bell, technically is also the main character. He’s the first and last voice to be heard and the general perspective of the film. This is truly a perfect film.

  6. Aaron
    Oct 26 2009

    I must disagree slightly with Helen. Although the car does present an element of the illusion of control, I think also that the characters are left to take responsibility for their own actions.

    A fact that Chigur doesn’t want to face.

  7. Helen
    Oct 29 2009

    @Aaron: I’m not sure if we disagree so much as are coming at the question from different directions. The demands of conscience is a major theme (powerfully expressed in the scene coming right before the car crash), and from that perspective people control their own actions and decisions. Where I see the illusion of control is in the characters’ ultimate helplessness to control what happens _to_ them, a fact Chigur also doesn’t want to face.

  8. Aaron
    Oct 29 2009

    @Helen:

    Yeah, you’re right.

    Dang, I need to watch this movie again.

    It’s a great film, but I’m not sure I agree with it’s dark and slightly nihilistic leanings. I enjoyed it’s existentialistic themes (I’m a Christian Existentialist), but it definitely doesn’t end on a hopeful not (at least not for Bell).

    Then again Carla Jean retains her dignity, even in the face of death. I suppose the film does present opportunities for the characters to redeem themselves. They’re just too weak and wearied (Bell) or greedy and obsessed(Moss) to see the light.

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