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Say No to No Country: Why The Coen Brothers’ Latest Shouldn’t Win Best Picture

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief


For an opposing, and much more favorable review, CLICK HERE 

Image The Academy Awards are this coming Sunday and in reading various critics predictions one movie stood out with many as the Best Picture of the Year: the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men.  I saw this movie late in the game, actually about two weeks ago and while I did enjoy it, for the most part I left the theater angry that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.  So instead of waxing poetic about all the reasons why this movie deserves to win Best Picture, I’m going to explain why I think this movie should not win the Oscar and furthermore why it wasn’t the best movie of 2007 (essentially why I didn’t like it).

Before I get into my reasons for those who have yet to see the movie here’s some backstory.  Based on a novel by acclaimed writer Cormac McCarthy No Country focuses on three main characters: hunter Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).  When Moss finds two million dollars in a case after stumbling upon a drug deal gone bad he keeps the money and makes a run for it.  That sends the evil Chigurh on a hunt to find and kill him while Sheriff Bell has to put the pieces together and save Llewellyn.

Reasons Why It Isn’t the Best

o   Plot Becomes Convoluted-I’m currently reading the novel and in doing so there are plot elements that I’m able to understand a lot better in the book.  There are issues in the film with the Mexican drug dealers who just seem to come into the movie for no reason and it becomes really confusing when you’re wondering who is responsible for a person’s death, whether it be the Mexicans or Anton Chigurh.  In the theater I was in when I watched this many people left asking “Who had the money at [insert scene]” or “who took the drugs?”  If you read the novel things make more sense, but sadly it all tends to get muddled in the adaptation process.

o   Underutilized Side Characters-When I talk about characters that got short shrift two people come to mind, that of fellows agent/assassin Carson Welles (Woody Harrelson) and Llewellyn’s wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald).  While both are fantastic in the few key moments they have in the movie, the audience just doesn’t have time to connect with them because of how underused they are.  They get far more time in the book, which is a shame because they easily could have been more fleshed out, especially Carla Jean who almost becomes like another main character in the novel and does contribute to a lot of the plot.

o   Characters Screentime Not Evenly Spread-In furthering the last point one of the major issues I had with No Country is how uneven the roles are.  In the film you spend an hour and a half with Llewellyn and Chigurh then take an abrupt left turn to spending the last thirty minutes with Sheriff Bell.  Now this wouldn’t have been a problem but Bell is in only about 20-25 minutes in that first hour and a half and even then he isn’t your main focus.  By having such a sudden shift in perspective you feel cheated out of what you’ve seen, especially since the advertising and marketing lists this as Brolin’s and Bardem’s movie for the most part.  In reading the book all three people are interwoven beautifully and I was really surprised the Coens did such an about face in the movie.

o   Bell and His “Morals”-Many people have praised Tommy Lee Jones for his amazing portrayal as the smalltime local sheriff and not to knock Mr. Jones, he is just as compelling as Brolin and Bardem in the movie.  The issue is that every time Bell arrives he does with a “moral story.”  If he’s not talking about couples who murder old people for their insurance money then he’s talking about how sheriffs didn’t use to have guns.  The stories all appear in McCarthy’s work they REALLY slow down the movie.  One minute you’re steeped in a shootout then you jar to a halt to hear about something that happened in the 1900s (note the movie is set in 1980).  This really minimizes the impact of Jones’ final two speeches which are nothing short of beautiful but having to sit through an hour of him waxing poetic about everything that happens, the audience is left feeling numb by the end.

o   No Giant Confrontation-In watching the first half of the movie all signs lead to a massive, some would say epic, duel between Llewellyn and Chigurh.  There is a great shootout outside a hotel between the two but there is never any fighting contact between them.  By the end they’ve never had the big battle you were waiting for.  Some would say this was effective but I thought it was just a way to cheat the audience out of a big ass battle.  This is the part that pissed me off the most because in the book there is a confrontation.  It’s not as gigantic as one would like but they do talk face-to-face and stand off.  To use what little Stars Wars that I know of it’s almost like being cheated out of a duel between Luke and Vader (just think about that!).

 
The last reason I didn’t enjoy No Country for Old Men is a ginormious spoiler so if you intend on watching the movie and don’t want it ruined then scroll down to the end to see what I did enjoy…you have been warned.  

 

o   The Unseen Deaths of Llewellyn and Carla Jean-Let me preface this by saying I didn’t mind that Llewellyn died, when he did I was crushed and it made the movie completely memorable.  What pissed me off (and I’m still griping about it to people I know even now) is that we never see it.  One minute we’re left with Llewellyn waiting for his wife, the next he’s dead.  I think John Campea from The Movie Blog said it best when he mentioned it was like abruptly switching to Vader’s funeral with no explanation (there goes the Star Wars references again).  It is the ultimate deception to the audience who has been on this journey with Llewellyn and then has him taken away.  It would have been fine to have him die but at least tell us what the hell happened.  As it plays now many of the people in the audience I saw it with just assumed Chigurh killed him…hate to tell you all but he didn’t.  Yes Chigurh, the man who’s been chasing Llewellyn this whole damn time doesn’t even get to off him in the end.  Remember how I mentioned the Mexicans who just popped up throughout the movie.  Well somehow (it’s explained in the novel, not the effectively in the movie) they found him and killed him.  The audience I saw the movie with was also confused with the death of Carla Jean (who is killed by Chigurh….dammit).  In the novel it is stated outright that Carla Jean is killed, the film makes it more ambiguous.  This one I didn’t have too much of a problem with but I knew many a filmgoer who was pissed about that too.

 
Don’t write me off as just the bitter critic who hates the Coens.  This was actually my first Coen Brothers movie and I did like it a great deal, I just think it has major flaws.  So just to prove to you all that I’m not a total cynic here’s what I did enjoy about No Country for Old Men.

 

o   Josh Brolin-I will try to refrain from talking about how much I love Josh Brolin normally (which is incredibly difficult for me).  But sitting in the theater I was in a lot of people left the theater praising him instead of Javier Bardem.  In my humble opinion both actors play off each other incredibly well and I was surprised that just Bardem walked away with an Oscar nomination.  The character of Llewellyn Moss fits Brolin to a “T” and he is spectacular. 

o   Cat and Mouse Story-I mentioned above that the first half of the movie involving the chase between Llewellyn and Chigurh was the best and it is.  In rewatching the movie recently I was so drawn into the story of Chigurh coming after Llewellyn.  Javier Bardem is utterly terrifying in this film, easily one of the best movie villains ever crafted, and watching him go around slaughtering whoever to get his money was so nail biting.  Every time the two were set to come to a head something pushed them further away and it all seemed like a perfect, choreographed dance.  I do have to commend the Coens for making such a great thriller.

o   Brutal Kills-That brings me to the next part I liked about this, the brutal murders.  Yes that might make me seem bizarre and gross but the novel and the movie have the most unique ways to kill people.  I will mention two words “air compressor” and “cattle stunner.”  I think that right there just send shivers up my spine and the fact that the Coens do not shy away from showing the deaths on screen, not only make Chigurh seem more terrifying but it does such a perfect job of saying “these are the consequences.”

o   Engaging Story-Sure the drug movie has been done to death in recent years but the most unique aspect of No Country has to be the story.  The plot sets off at a run from the word go and never let’s up (until the last 30 minutes).  I chalk a lot of this diversity to the setting.  The movie and book are set in Texas and the starkness and isolation of a lot of the locations makes it seem like the movie is set in its own little world.  There is a huge sense of loneliness and it makes the characters plight more real, that nobody can help them and I think the Coen excel in this part the most.

 
So yes I am proud to say I didn’t enjoy No Country for Old Men as much as everybody else.  It isn’t the second coming of Christ on celluloid and it’s not the Best Picture in my opinion (I give that award to Juno personally) but it is a triumph in certain respects.  I do heartily say go see it, just don’t bet your house on it in the end.

Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.

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