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No Country: Beginnings And Ends

In addition to being an exceptionally sharp film, No Country For Old Men has occasioned a fair amount of exceptionally sharp film criticism. (Be aware: No spoilers in this post, but plenty in the links.) Here's Jim Emerson on the movie's opening shots:

The land is black, swallowed in the shadows. The sky is beginning to glow orange and blue. This is Genesis, the primordial landscape of "No Country for Old Men." We may think we're looking at a sunset at first, but the next few shots show a progression: The sky lightens, the sun rises above the horizon to illuminate a vast Western expanse. No signs of humanity are evident. And then, a distant windmill -- a mythic "Once Upon a Time in the West" kind of windmill. So, mankind figures into the geography after all. A barbed-wire fence cuts through a field. The camera, previously stationary, stirs to life, and pans (ostensibly down the length of the fence) to find a police car pulled over on the shoulder of a highway. There's law out here, too.

Light, land, man, boundaries, law. Each image builds subtly on the one(s) before it, adding incrementally to our picture of the territory we're entering. The establishment of this location -- a passing-through stretch of time and space, between where you've been and where you're going, wherever that may be -- seeps into your awareness. Not a moment is wasted, but the compositions have room to breathe, along with the modulations of Tommy Lee Jones' voice, the noises in the air, and Carter Burwell's music-as-sound-design. The movie intensifies and heightens your senses.

And here's Premiere's Glenn Kenny on its conclusion:

I called the film’s final scene, which corresponds very closely to the final passage of the Cormac McCarthy novel from which the film was adapted, the “Glass Key ending.” It seemed apt for reasons beyond the fact that both works end with the recounting of a dream. There was also the fact of the Coen Brothers’ sort-of adaptation of the Hammett novel (mashed up with Hammett’s Red Harvest) and the occasions Hammett’s work provided for the Coens to mix pulp with cinematic poetry…to go for effects that reach beyond telling a story, you could say. On a recent episode of Charlie Rose, discussing why they made a movie of McCarthy’s novel .... Joel Coen noted that the book was “pulpier” than anything they’d read by McCarthy before…”and then, it wasn’t.”

For the truly engrossed, Kenny and Emerson also dissect and re-dissect the scene, near the end, in which Anton Chigurh seems to vanish from a motel room when Sheriff Ed Tom Bell enters it. (My own view? I'd like to see the scene again, but Emerson's explanation seems to me a considerable stretch.)

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat expresses appropriate sympathy for Josh Brolin, whose third-in-line status behind Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones means he will almost certainly be overlooked come Oscar time. It's a shame, too, because unlike Bardem and Jones--who, marvellous as they are, both serve as quasi-literary devices--Brolin has to create a flesh-and-blood character, and do so (as Ross notes) with very little help from the script.

Finally, for those who missed them, my own thoughts on the film are here.

--Christopher Orr