Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Big "Huh!?"

I've never had the undying love for the Coen Brothers that a lot of film buffs seem to have. I've found some of their films enjoyable and original, like Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink, but on a lot of others, they have been in full film school geek mode and gotten away with warmed-over pastiches and loud, condescending humor inspired by old movies with no relationship to how people sound or act in the real world. Those elements make Miller's Crossing and O Brother, Where Art Thou? really tiresome for me. Then last night I finally watched the much-applauded No Country For Old Men and my reaction at the end was "What the hell was that?".

This movie played out like it was missing a reel or two. They made a thriller but didn't bother to give it an ending. I get the concept that the movie was supposed to be told from the viewpoint of a sheriff, played by Tommy Lee Jones, on the periphery of a grim chase over stolen drug money that leaves a long trail of bloody carnage. The thing is the film isn't only told from his viewpoint. A lot of attention is paid to the drifter who finds the money and the psychopathic hitman who is following him, so much so that you want to know what happens to them. The affected nonsense the Coens pull in the last half hour with a shootout that takes place offscreen and the hitman calmly walking away from a car accident with nothing more serious than a broken arm is furiously unsatisfying.

All the great directors who did similar films, Welles, Ford, Hitchcock, Peckinpah, knew it was important to tell a complete story. Even David Lynch knows enough to bring his characters to a resolution. This treatment was childishly perverse, like the Coens were saying "We'll teach you to care about plot."

There are a lot of worthwhile films that have used a thriller plot as a mere backdrop to telling another story. I saw a good example of that last week in Truffaut's Shoot The Piano Player. The difference is that those films had a story to tell. The closest thing to a story here was Tommy Lee Jones doing monologues about the way things used to be.

The most amazing thing to me after finally seeing this movie is all the acclaim it received. The acting is great and Javier Bardem deserved his Oscar but I'm stunned that this artistic con job actually beat out the far superior There Will Be Blood for Best Picture.

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