More recent films

March 22, 2008

One in a very occasional series, in which I share some thoughts about films I have watched in the not-too-distant past. This time, 2 highly acclaimed films, each with their own very distinctive aesthetic and visual style.

First up is No Country For Old Men. I’m going to nail my colours to the mast, and say that I thought this was the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, combining all the tension and suspense of their thrillers such as Fargo, with cinematic flair comparable to someone like Terrence Malick, as well as enough jet-black humour to leaven what is a pretty uncompromising plot.

I won’t go into the plot here, which is actually a fairly standard story of a drug bust gone wrong, followed by a pursuit, albeit told in a pretty oblique fashion. What really make it stand out are some astonishing performances from the lead actors. Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are suitably wry and laconic as (respectively) the protagonist, Llewelyn Moss, basically a decent, resourceful guy in way over his head, and the old-time but astute Sheriff Bell, whose reflections on events provide a suitably terse voice-over narrative.

The real stand-out (and worthy Oscar winner) is Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurrh. Chigurrh is the assassin put on Moss’s tail after the aforementioned drug deal gone bad. To call Chigurrh simply an assassin doesn’t really do him justice, though- he’s more akin to a force of nature or perhaps a personification of evil, being as he is implacable, remorseless and inhuman. Inhuman is perhaps not exactly the right word- he does turn out to have a warped code of honour, although this doesn’t really go any way towards lessening the bloodshed of what is a pretty violent film. There’s a particularly uncomfortable scene during which he torments a gas station attendee for an innocent remark, and all the while you can tell that while Chigurrh might kill the man, doing so would mean as little to him as not bothering.

While the film has a definite ending, it doesn’t really tie up a lot of the loose ends, which I appreciated- so many American films seem to be scared of ambiguity. Also ambiguous was the moral of the story, if any. Sheriff Bell seemingly retires because of the terrible things he has witnessed, although [SPOILER ALERT] I thought it might have been suggested that he had in fact been killed by Chigurrh, and that Bell’s last few scenes were in some kind of afterlife. Chigurrh manages to stagger off at the end, unbowed and no doubt ready to commit more acts of violence, should more contracts come his way. He seemed in some way symbolic of the forces unleashed in the early eighties (the film is set in 1981) by the likes of the proliferating drug trade, the trauma of America’s disastrous war in Vietnam, and the brutalising effects of the move away from the New Deal consensus towards Reaganomics.

Anyway, ill-formed politico-cultural musings aside, the movie is brilliant- it works as a super-tense thriller, a meditation on the old West and the nature of the frontier in the American psyche (oops, there I go again) and as an exemplary exercise in acting from its excellent cast, and film-making from the back on form Coen Brothers.

The other film I’m going to write about is Anton Corbijn’s Control. This is a biopic of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division, who committed suicide at the age of 23. I’m a big fan of Joy Division, and indeed of all things relating to Factory Records, and Manchester music generally, so I was looking forward to seeing this.

The good stuff first: the cinematography and period detail were both excellent, evoking the grimness of the 70s in Macclesfield and Manchester. The cast’s performances were very good, managing to equal those in the great 24 Hour Party People.  In particular, Sam Riley is uncannily similar to Ian Curtis, and even manages to pull off his slightly upsetting semi-epileptic onstage performances.

What I found lacking, however, was any kind of narrative tension. I guess this is partly because I’m familiar with Curtis’ sad life story, but I don’t think that was entirely it. Anyone watching the film is likely to know that Curtis ends up taking his own life, so the film then has to hold your interest when you already know its ending. Unfortunately, mine waned, and I ended up wanting him to put on Iggy Pop’s The Idiot and then do the grim deed just so I could finish watching. Probably worth watching for the cinematography or if you’re interested in post punk, though.

I was also going to blog about There Will Be Blood, but I’ve repeatedly failed to go and see it in the cinema, but hopefully I’ll manage that soon.


One Response to “More recent films”

  1. […] other film news in spite of what some people think ‘No Country For Old Men’ isn’t the Coen brothers’ best film, it’s […]

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