I can contemplate, graphically, serial murder. I can appreciate a 90-minute depiction of slaughter. Movies I have enjoyed: Natural Born Killers, Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, Scarface, Aliens, Tarantino’s, etc. I just need a ripping yarn. Or a big idea. Or a weird idea. Or wailing special effects and stunts.
Well, there are no effects or stunts to speak of in No Country For Old Men. There are no big or weird ideas, at least not presented in any way you could sink your teeth into. The official tagline is “there are no clean getaways”, which I would paraphrase as “no free lunch”, and hope for a commentary on “America”, or greed, or laziness, or the Buddha’s first noble truth. Instead, I get a video game. A guy finds money and another guy hunts him for it, killing everyone in his path. I don’t know why the first guy is trying to keep the money. I don’t know anything about him. No external forces bear on them. There are two other characters who appear to be pointless. Woody Harrelson’s character appears to be intentionally pointless. Tommy Lee Jones may be intended to provide a philosophical and/or moral input, which could be good, except that it goes something like this:
-“Anytime you quit hearin ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ the end is pretty much in sight”
Or maybe he’s intended to provide wry witticisms, which could be good, except that it goes something like this:
-“(It’s a mess, ain’t it.) Well if it ain’t, it’ll do til the mess gets here.”
I haven’t read the novel, but I’ve read that it’s about causality and fate. And indeed, the film has characters say, on several occasions, some variation of “you can’t stop what’s coming”. Now this could be an interesting idea, but as part of a “keep the psycho druglord away from his $2 million” plot, it’s kind of a no-brainer.
So you watch this series of murders of innocent bystanders, wrapped in absolutely nothing but the natural suspense of hunting, interrupted occasionally by the confusing pointlessness of Tommy Lee Jones, and for a brief time by the confusing pointlessness of Woody Harrelson.
And you say to yourself: Javier Bardem’s hairdo and method of shooting people is not enough to carry this material.
Surprising from the Coens.