Monday, September 6, 2010

No Country for Old Men (2007)

From AFI:
"In 1980, in west Texas, Anton Chigurh strangles the young deputy who arrested him. Using the authority provided by the deputy’s police car that he steals, Chigurh stops a man in a Ford and shoots him in the forehead with a stun gun attached by hose to a compressed air tank. Later, Chigurh decides by the flip of a coin whether or not to kill a proprietor of a gas station who has unintentionally annoyed him. In the Texas wilderness, Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss is hunting antelope when he discovers an area strewn with many corpses, marking the site of a drug deal that culminated in a shootout. Leaving behind a large quantity of heroin stashed in the back of the trunk, Llewelyn steals a suitcase filled with two million dollars, but feels unable to help the only survivor, who is critically wounded. However, during the night, in the trailer home he shares with his wife Carla Jean, guilt prompts Llewelyn to return to the site with a jug of water for the suffering man. There, he must run for his life from armed thugs associated with one of the parties in the failed drug exchange who have come to retrieve the goods. He barely escapes, but realizes afterward that he still can be found by the license plates on his truck, which he was forced to abandon. To ensure their safety, Llewelyn sends Carla Jean to her mother’s house and then takes a room at the Regal Motel in a different town."

I watched this film again recently, as a nod to one of my favorite podcasts, Filmspotting, since Adam and Matty both had it in their Top 3 of the Decade. The first time through, I hadn't been as impressed as most, although I didn't see it on the big screen, and it had already been overhyped to me. This time, I sat down and made sure I had no interruptions for a couple hours and really started to look at it.

The first thing I noticed was that I had the main character all wrong. Like I'm sure so many people had before, I thought that Josh Brolin was the main character. But on second look, it's Tommy Lee Jones's voice you hear first, setting down to tell us a story about Texas that represents his whole point of view. Much like LAURA, where Waldo Lydecker starts telling us about the night Laura died, the main character here is framing the story, but someone else is driving the action. Brolin is the poor sap in over his head, and Jones is the one that has to pick up the pieces and wonder about the state of the world we live in. In fact, he lays it out in voice-over before the action even starts: "The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, 'O.K., I'll be part of this world.'"

I think this is where the arguments for noir come in. This is a classic "cynical anti-hero" narrative, that guy that walks the line between light and dark. Jones's point is that, for every lawman that works nowadays, you have to walk that line, and do it willingly in order to do his job effectively. I'm not saying it's noir. Or even neo-noir. but when I figure out what noir is, and subsequently what neo-noir is, I'll let you know.

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