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November 15, 2007

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Zack Calhoon

I concur. I saw it on the first day of the stagehand strike. It was beautiful, chilling, dangerous, and poetic. A fine film.

Karl Miller

One of my favorite movie critics is Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader. To the annoyance of his readers (see comments after his review) and his contemporaries, he's always looking for the ideological framework behind "apolitical" art.

In his review of "No Country for Old Men" he doesn't focus so much on immigration or small/big-c conservatism; he talks about our fascination with psychopathic killers and how their prominence as American icons (Hannibal Lecter, et al) might explain these thanato-tacular times.

http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/moviereviews/2007/071108/

It's an interesting read. I haven't seen the film yet and I want to ... but why do we always seem to hit this formal/moral divide with the Brothers Coen? Excellent craft, cynical adolescent worldview.

isaac

Good question, Karl. I think the main thing is that the Coens' worldview is frequently adolescent and a function of their mischevious entitlement, particularly in its relationship to otherness. RAISING ARIZONA clearly holds poor rural people in contempt (as does O BROTHER), foreigners are represented by the Nihilists and The Jesus in Lebowski, hispanics are mariachi band clowns or vicious psychopathic anarchist killers in NO COUNTRY, the midwest comes in for some goodhearted condescension in FARGO, the one prominent black character in a Coen film (the narrator in HUDSUCKER) is a kind of faux-uncle-remus, the working classes show themselves not worthy of being advocated for via John Goodman in BARTON FINK etc.

This doesn't stop all of these from being good movies, it just makes their politics a bit... complicated. I don't know what's behind it, but it's the troubling thing for me when I watch (and love, which I do) their films.

sashanaomi

I just saw this tonight. (Yes, they actually begin movies at 1am in good old Queens.) I heard so many good things about it, and was really, (for lack of better words), pumped up to see it.
I was completely drawn in for about the first three quarters of the film. I love it when a film, especially a suspensful one can actually pull off a slow, thoughtful pace. Never before have I ever felt such chills watching a crumpled wrapper unfold. I was on the edge of my seat so much that I didn't even mind the mediocre, surface-acting scenes with Kelly MacDonald. The film doesn't just satisfy I guess what Aristotle would call the passions, but the intellect as well. I kept wondering what sort of principles this psychotic killer was operating under.
Then, and I won't give away the ending, as I was waiting for the big pay-off, the story suddenly became about Tommy Lee Jones' character. Maybe the Coen brothers thought we would lose interest if eventually, the story, like most of America didn't revolve around an old white man in a position of power. I didn't really care about the old white sheriff. I've heard that story a zillion times. I cared about the two guys who are victims of a world run by old white men.
Actually, the first thing I thought after viewing the bloody corpses and bricks of marijuana was why is that stuff illegal anyway? Well, I guess it ties back to laws passed by old white men. I don't say this as some hippie pothead, but as someone who wonders if there might be less violent crime if it were legalized. (Unfortunately that's an argument that could fill up fifty blog posts, so I'll just leave it at that.)
Did anyone else wonder what Woody Harrelson, narrator of the movie "Grass" was doing in this film?
As far as the immigration issue. . .The fact that we learn nothing about the killer's personal life makes him more mysterious and frightening. Unfortunately, it also helps perpetuate negative stereotypes. All we see is some lunatic drug trafficking Mexican. It really seals the deal for all those racist Americans and Lou Dobbs who think immigrants are destroying the U.S., and want to build walls around the border.
So, if the purpose of this film was to instruct by delighting the passions, (like dead white man church theatre), then I guess we better not just watch out for all those commies in China, but those brown people with "principles of pure destructiveness" living south of the border.
(Wow, if this were an interview, and just that last sentence were pulled, I'd look like a real jerk.)

stefzad

First of all, I have never seen a film that was more faithful to a book, so perhaps we are also talking about Cormac McCarthy's relentlessly bleak vision. As to your point about the hispanics, they were not the only criminals, nor were they the worst : more cogs in a wheel. To tell the story without hispanics would be inauthentic, and to show happy vibrant and successful mexicans in this setting, would not only be an out of place statement of political correctness, but also hinder believability in what I took to be great storytelling and the creation of an engrossing world of characters. Can we have a shout out for that awesome Neil Diamond hairdo?

Abe Goldfarb

Er...the film is Jones's story from the beginning, Sasha. It is his narration that sets the tone, establishes the place and dominates the storytelling. The supposed switch in perspective at the end is nothing to do with satisfying an in-built audience racism, but is in fact a reminder that what we're really watching is the decay of Jones's imagined ethical world. He's only in a nominal position of power, and remains, to the end, a step behind the unfolding maelstrom. His is not an authority position, and the film never forgets to remind us that his imagined past was in reality pretty shitty. And Brolin's Moss, a down-home conservative in every way (hunts, has guns in the house, no particular dismay at seeing a bunch of bullet-riddled Mexicans) is finally undone despite his self-impressed ingenuity. As for Chigurrh? He's an angel in as many ways as he's a devil. What grace, what purity, what unutterable beauty....that is what makes him a splendid antagonist.

And I'm certain that Harrellson could tell that the film had no actual point of view on drugs.

I think that a lot of what Isaac sees as conservatism in the Coen's films, this yearning for a simpler time, is not only usually tinted by irony but in fact a nostalgia for MOVIES past. The social strictures of whatever time and place the Coens examine interest them far less than what place it takes in the timeline of popular cinema. Philosophically, they're chameleons, responding to the demands of a text. They do look backwards, through the camera, and even the sepia hick buffoonery of O Brother is infused with a certain nobility and affection Plus, O Brother is a film that portrays a gathering of Klansmen as a chorus line of inbred morons, and has a none-too-ambiguous Robert Johnson surrogate as one of its ragtag heroes. And speaking of politics, look no further than The Big Lebowski for a hysterical burlesque of modern conservatism ("I suggest you do what your parents did! Get a JOB sir!"), a noir in which the butt of every joke is a warhawk vet and the hero a shaggy pothead.

I don't think the lines here are as clean as they seem, is all. No Country is a masterpiece, and resists easy political analysis. Not that your analysis was easy in any way, Isaac, my good man, but it is my humble opinion that there's a more complex dialogue of content, theme and form here than you think.

RamonGustav

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Antivirus_man

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school_dubl

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Realestate

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Rental

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