Monday, January 28, 2008

I Didn't Get It

Scott and I are making the rounds of seeing all the Oscar contenders for this year. Yesterday we saw Michael Clayton. So I've now seen four of the five films nominated for Best Picture. I still have yet to see There Will Be Blood, which Scott saw on his own with a friend, so he's one up on me. I'm looking forward to seeing Daniel Day Lewis' critically acclaimed performance, although I am not looking forward to sitting in a movie theatre for three hours. But that's a rant for another post.

This post's rant is on the "brilliance" of No Country for Old Men. I did not enjoy this film. I can appreciate the fine performances of the actors, I can appreciate the direction and cinematography. But this film left me totally flat. First, there was the violence. I have a problem with a lot of gratuitous violence. You know how some people find musicals unrealistic? That's how I feel about movies with sequences of seemingly inconsequential violence. It takes me right out of the film. I find people breaking into song a lot easier to swallow than someone who can take out an entire town with an oozie and walk away from it both legally and psychologically unscathed.* I find myself unable to suspend my disbelief.

Next there was the acting. Wonderful performances all around, I will admit. But I maintain the actor who gave the most impressive performance in the film was Tommy Lee Jones, who played a man who is doing his best to stop this chain of violent events but finds at his age and stage in his career he is impotent. Hence the title, No Country for Old Men. He is the old man in question here, yet he is relegated to something of a minor character. But during what screen time he does get, we get to watch a man who was once at the top of his career come to terms with his inability to stop the killing all around him. This character takes a journey of self discovery and Jones brilliantly crafts this character's evolution throughout the film.

Josh Brolin gave a good performance, too, but I found myself not really invested in his character. I didn't feel there was enough exposition on who this guy was and why we should be interested in following the greed and desperation of someone who is foolish enough to walk away with a suitcase full of money from an obviously ugly crime scene where something went gruesomely wrong and THEN goes back to revisit that scene. Yet we are taken on every minute of his cat and mouse chase against a ruthless, inhuman killing machine. Which brings me to Javier Bardem.

By all accounts, this is the supporting performance of the year. As Josh Brolin quipped at last night's SAG awards "This is Javier Bardem's 497th award." Yes, he was good. Very good in fact. But frankly, this was an easy character to play. He is a heartless, sociopathic killer who fears no consequence because he has no conscience. There is no obstacle here. Playing sociopaths is easy--you can justify anything. What is difficult is playing a character who has to kill that many people and actually thinks about it, has an inner conflict, weighs the consequences and does it anyway. But then Hollywood rarely looks beyond the surface of these things.

When I've voiced my opinion on this film to friends I always get the same answer "But that's the Cohn brothers, their films are always like that." Really? I don't remember Fargo or Raising Arizona having such, flat two-dimensional characters. But this film is being heralded by everyone as "brilliant" so obviously I missed something. If you "got" this film, fill me in in the comments section. After last night's SAG awards this film is poised to take Best Picture at the Oscars and I want to be able to discuss it like I know what I'm talking about. Any insights are greatly appreciated. Thanks.

* Interestingly, Sweeney Todd had both ruthless killing and musical numbers and I loved that, although it was completely overlooked by the Academy.



At 10:44 AM, Blogger Y | O | Y said...

Both No Country for Old Men and Sweeney Todd are on my must see list. Unfortunately, I can only go to showings that fit neatly between 12:30-3:30 in the afternoon. I think I'm going to see Atonement today so that will be another Oscar nominee under my belt.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger judy said...

Looks like nobody got it, Michael. I must say that we looked at each other at the end of the movie and said, "Did we miss something?" That having been said, I do think that Tommy Lee Jones' performance was well worth the price of admission.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Michael said...

At the end of the movie I was scratching my head saying "What happened?"

What I thought was interesting about this movie was that there wasn't all of this "background" stuff about the characters, what made them who they are, why they did what they did. It seemed to me, as though the movie picked up right at the action and just followed that piece of it all the way to the end, there were very few "branches" of the story which I thought was brilliant.

It really made me feel as though I was in the moment with the movie and living it at the same time.

Javier creeped the fuck out of me, and I thought TLJ did an amazing job.

I still can't say that I loved it, but I did like it.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger Maddog said...

I agree with you 100%. I saw the movie last summer on a whim and left feeling like I had just wasted 2.5 hours of my life. My friend and I both felt the same way. I still don't get all the hype.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger TCho said...

How did you like Atonement? I want to see that.

At 1:04 PM, Blogger TCho said...

I forgot about my last comment. Anyway, I finally got around to seeing Atonement, and i really enjoyed it. And James McAvoy was really cute.

I really did not get the ending of No Country either. What was so funny was that I wasn't paying attention during Tommy Lee Jones's speech at the end. Then, all of a sudden, the movie just ended, and I was like, "oh shit what was he saying?" But even after I went online to research what Tommy Lee Jones said at the end, I still don't get it.


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