“No Country for Old Men” – “Staggering,” “The Coen’s Best Dark Film Ever”

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Oh, but I do hate to say “I told you so.”

Jeffrey Wells is reeling, raving, overwhelmed by the new Coen Brothers’ movie.

This is going to be a difficult test of my patience. I’m going nuts here. I’ve got to see this thing.

And check out this review by Charles Ealy:

… nothing short of brilliant.

… Javier Bardem ably captures the pathological menace of Chigurh … And Tommy Lee Jones, in one of his finest performances, stars as Sheriff Bell, the beleaguered lawman who is only able to watch as the carnage unfolds.

It’s by far the most violent Coen brothers film ever, surpassing the deadpan tree-shredding of bodies in Fargo. And it marks a return of the Coens to Texas, where they set their first feature film, Blood Simple. Like that movie, No Country delights in the unusual minor characters who pop up in scene after scene. You hate to see them gunned down, but you know it’s coming, just like a biblical plague.

It’s gratifying to see the Coen brothers turn their attention back to serious cinema. Fargo and Miller’s Crossing have always ranked among their best. And they couldn’t have chosen a better vehicle to get back to their roots.

UPDATE: And now this:

Is No Country For Old Men the best movie of the year, you ask? It’s an unfair question, says I, because the year’s not even half over. Screw it, I says a moment later, the thing’s a near masterpiece.

And this:

It is always a mistake to make a snap judgement on a Coen Brothers movie. Case in point: Sure, everybody loves The Big Lebowski now, but I well remember the stupefaction with which a helluva lot of critics and much of the viewing public greeted it upon its release. Even with something like Ladykillers, their game is always much deeper than you first might think it is. (Okay, with Intolerable Cruelty, not so much.) So I hesitate before I offer that No Country For Old Men, which premiered tonight in competition at Cannes, is three-quarters of a masterpiece. . . .

Throughout, the Coens modulate their tone — darkness with an extreme undercurrent of the absurd — perfectly, at least until [Kelly] MacDonald’s show-hick mom enters the picture. She’s soon gone though, but by that point the picture itself has changed. It turns ruminant, elides what some might consider major high points of the story, and goes for something more deeply elegiac than anything the filmmakers have ever attempted before. I wasn’t the only one thrown by this shift, but I want to let it work over me a little more. Even as I’m chewing on it while typing this, I’ve got a feeling I may be calling Country a full-fledged masterpiece after I catch it a second time. Or maybe even before then.

UPDATED SATURDAY 5/19:
The Guardian:

It’s a riveting, blistering bit of work … The film runs a shade over two hours but there’s barely an ounce of fat on it. It’s pure narrative, hard, fast and lean, with none of the post-modern japery that the Coens sometimes use to put a distance between the story and the audience.

Midway through, I had this down as the brothers’ best film since The Big Lebowski. By the end I was wondering if it might not be their masterpiece.

Okay, at last, here’s something less than a rave. But I can’t see how faithfulness to the novel could be a problem here…
Hollywood Reporter:

The film attains an extraordinary level of tension as a fiercely dedicated drug runner named Anton Chigurh, brilliantly played by Javier Bardem, pursues a man who has stumbled upon and taken his money. The Coens’ typically superior filmmaking sustains the electrifying mood for most of the picture, but they are undone by being too faithful to the source novel by Cormac McCarthy.

But then there’s Emmanuel Levy:

Brilliant from first frame to last, Joel and Ethan Coen’s … mesmerizing adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Cormac McCarthy, is their best film to date, an undisputed masterpiece that impresses on any number of levels.

… a rather faithful adaptation of McCarthy’s novel, its distinctly American themes, its rapid-fire pace, and its inky black comic tone. The Coens are able with their distinctive filmmaking skills to transform McCarthy’s rich, wry, resonant, and often humorous storytelling into a bravura movie, based on striking images, crisp dialogue, darkly humorous tone, and splendid acting from all around.

It’s hard to imagine a better match for the dusky wit and stark humanity of McCarthy’s characters than the Coens.

Variety:

A scorching blast of tense genre filmmaking shot through with rich veins of melancholy, down-home philosophy and dark, dark humor, No Country for Old Men reps a superior match of source material and filmmaking talent. Cormac McCarthy’s bracing and brilliant novel is gold for the Coen brothers, who have handled it respectfully but not slavishly, using its built-in cinematic values while cutting for brevity and infusing it with their own touch. Result is one of the their very best films, a bloody classic of its type destined for acclaim and potentially robust B.O. returns upon release later in the year.

And finally, one of my favorite critics, Kenneth Turan:

This is a completely gripping nihilistic thriller, a model of impeccably constructed, implacable storytelling. All you could hope for in a marriage of the Coen brothers and McCarthy, it’s a film that you can’t stop watching, even though you very much wish you could as it escorts you through a world so horrifically bleak “you put your soul at hazard,” as one character says, to be part of it.

UPDATED 5/21:
Variety’s Anne Thompson blogs:

Last night’s unveiling of No Country for Old Men lived up to all my expectations and more. It’s one of the Coen brothers’ most assured films, on a par with their Oscar-winning Fargo or Miller’s Crossing, with a touch of the southwestern twang of Raising Arizona. … The movie also touches the zeitgeist as it expresses a loss of innocence in our culture, a turn to the dark side. The ending is heart-tugging. It’s going to be hard to beat for the Palme d’Or. Unless Miramax messes up the movie’s fall release … I see a strong Oscar run.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.


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