Thursday, November 15, 2007

American Gothic

When it comes to the dark side of Americana in cinema, no one captures the essence of America like the Coen Brothers do. In their latest American Gothic tale, the Cormac McCarthy adaptation of No Country For Old Men, many facets of American life are focused on. Beyond this, a mesmerizing tale of brutal violence is told through three amazing characters. It's not often a director (in this case, brothers) can come back form a hiatus and make yet another masterpiece.

The Coen Brothers have somewhat fallen by the wayside with their last few efforts. The disappointing remake of The Ladykillers and the lackluster Intolerable Cruelty were tough films to watch from a reliable source. The days of Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona seemed to be in the distant past. Lucky for us, with great source material came greatness on the screen. No Country For Old Men, which has similar themes to Fargo, is an amazingly riveting addition to the Coen Brothers repertoire.

The story begins as Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a massacre along the border of Texas and Mexico. He finds a large amount of Heroin and a satchel filled with $2.4 million dollars amongst the bullet riddled bodies. Here in lies the main point of many conflicts. When someone finds that much money, you know someone else has to be looking for it. Enter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the "ghost" who has no moral compass, no soul and is armed with an industrial cattle prod and a shotgun with a silencer. Anyone who lays eyes on him is dead shortly thereafter. Hot on his trail is Sherriff Ed Campbell (Tommy Lee Jones.) He's your typical southern law man. Quick on his toes, smart, funny and a man of the people. He echoes the heroes of the old west with one difference: he's on his last legs as a lawman and hanging up his gun. Needless to say, the murderous rampaging of Chigurh.

The film takes an amazing approach to suspense. The stark, fiery landscapes are veiled in a soundless expanse. Unlike many thrillers, suspense is built in close to total silence. The lack of a soundtrack may have been the best move. No string arrangements were necessary to keep you on the edge of your seat and watching your back.

The three lead performances were incredible. Josh Brolin, who before now I would never peg as anything more than the older brother from The Gooines, plays his 'Nam Vet with a cool, calm and collected atmosphere. Although his character is flawed, he is the kind of tragic hero that you just can't help but like. There is something dark about him, but you can't but help to route for him throughout.

Tommy Lee Jones puts together yet another great performance. His character is very similar to the one he played in his directorial debut The Three Burials of Malquiedas Estrada (check out me Neo-Western post for more on that fabulous film.) His character is the moral epicenter of the film, which without him would show a world without heroes or people with morals. It's a good balance between Moss and Chigurh.

And now onto Javier Bardem. When I think of purest evil, this will now be the face, voice and overall demeanor I want to see. Forget Darth Vader. Forget Hannibal Lector. Forget the Devil himself. Anton Chigurh has no moral compass, no regard for any human life (minus children surprisingly) and a strange set of principles that he has to live by. Literally putting lives up to the toss of dime and killing anyone who lays eyes on him put with a few unexplained exceptions (children and those who win the coin toss) is a chilling attribute that makes him one of the greatest movie villains you will ever encounter. His little boy haircut, his pressurized cattle prod and his blank stare are enough to leave you on the edge of your seat.
With a film of this caliber and this amount of excellent acting, not to mention superb cinematography, this is sure to be one of those movies you can't forget and hopefully one of those moveis that goes on to acheive great awards and legendary status.


Lou said...

So you know I don't particularly enjoy movies, and rarely see them in the theater, but this movie was excellent. TR got me to go see it, and it was excellent.

Dude with the funky haircut is pretty badass.

j. leo said...

Loved it, though I'd be itnerested to talk in a non-public forum (to avoid spoilers) about the last half hour or so... a curious way to end, but I still loved.