Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Heist Tension: “No Country For Old Men” Has Enough Suspense For Three Movies

Hitchcock may be the “Master of Suspense” but I’ve never really had to watch one of his films through my hands. Psycho is my 5th favorite movie of all time and while it’s genius filmmaking and a terrifically realized movie-going experience, let’s all admit that it doesn’t have the punch it once did. Sure showering still hasn’t been the same and although Norman Bates is an iconic screen villain he doesn’t come close to matching the coolly intensity that Anton Chigurh (played coldly by sure-to-be-nominated Javier Bardem) brings to Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest film “No Country For Old Men.” And like Hitchcock, the Coens can take the most mundane places, such as motel rooms, and craft masterfully made scenes of tension.

Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy “No Country” tells the story of lower class man Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) who, while out hunting in the open plains of Texas, happens upon a bag full of money (2 million to be exact), a truck full of drugs, and lots of dead bodies. It was some sort of big drug deal that we never get to see. Being a trail park guy with little moral instincts, he decides to snatch the money up for himself. Little does he know Anton is killing anyone in his way to get to that money. Anton’s weapon of choice is a hydraulic machine that’s used to kill livestock. He walks around these desolate locations so casually as if it were his trusty umbrella. The plot is twisty and fun and the Coens’ script never take a false step along the way. And yes it does have moments of dark humor.

The film is almost constantly searingly intense. It has scenes that literally made me grab my shirt to pull up over my eyes. I twitched in my seat, squirming with both pleasure and agony. My heart pounded. The film actually created a bodily response from me. I nearly ripped the armrest from the seat. It’s so easy to say a movie is a nail-bitter but when a film nearly makes you recoil into the fetal position, that’s potent filmmaking at it’s greatest.

The plot is classic Hitchcock an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. The movie works because of what the audience knows and what the characters don’t know. We know Anton is after Llewelyn but he’s not sure until one of the most suspenseful sequences of recent memory. Lucky for Anton he has a tracking device that beeps when he gets closer to the bag of money. Unfortunately Llewelyn doesn’t realize that a tracker is in the bag. He’s not the smartest character but he’s witty enough to be able to find ways to survive. And added into the mix is the Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who is also on the heels of Anton. It’s just a matter of time before Bell catches up with Anton or Anton catches up with Llewlyn.

You are completely drawn into the story right away and not a since frame is wasted (thank you brilliant cinematography Roger Deakins). And as quickly as the film’s story begins, it just ends. Yes this is one of those movies that just ends. It ends appropriately yet frustratingly at a point with pretty much nothing wrapped up. And that makes sense for a story like this. There can be no happy ending and no closure. You get to see point A to point B. But we purposely don’t get to see point C.

The Coens use music sparingly. In fact, I don’t recall music at all, just the sounds of silence. Silence is the score because nothing a composer could have written could have made the film any more intense. (Although Carter Burwell has some theme good music at the end during the credits.) It’s so good I want to see it again, yet it’s so relentlessly suspenseful I’m too scared to lay my eyes upon it.

This film has scenes that were made just so that they could be put in film textbooks. I don’t know if I’d call this a western although it takes place in Texas. I’m not sure I was just call it a suspense film although the tension overflow. I don’t know whether I’d call it a heist movie, because we don’t actually ever see a heist. It’s a conglomerate of genres, which is what the Coen Brothers do best. Call it “Fargo” in Texas if you want, but drop what you’re doing and catch this flick ASAP! GRADE: A