No Country for Old Men
Okay, Mama Fratelli … just let my brother and his friends go.

Golden Mug

Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem)
Supporting Actress (Kelly Macdonald)

Cinematography (Roger Deakins)

Theatrical Release Date: 11/21/2007
Directors: Ethan & Joel Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald

Garnering the first raves of the award season has been the Coen brothers’ latest film, “No Country for Old Men”, so far snapping up the Best Film of the Year honors from the National Board of Review (who I don’t remember having any say until this year so kudos to the marketing arm behind this film) and the New York Film Critics Circle.

A somewhat bloody suspense-thriller set in 1980′s West Texas, the film revolves around drug money that falls into the hands of an opportunistic Josh Brolin. Merciless killing machine Javier Bardem wants it back and Tommy Lee Jones is the town sheriff trying to put together all the pieces, following their visceral wake.

What works best in the film are the methodical and suspense-laden shots of Bardem stalking his prey or toying with everyday people through menacing conversations that could very well be their last.

Going along with this point, it is Bardem’s truly mesmerizing performance that drives the film. He plays a psychopath to a frighteningly high level and his cold stare alone could probably kill people. At the very least, I expect some nominations to come his way once the award shows kick into gear.

Brolin and Jones do their part as well but it’s nothing I haven’t seen from them before and their characters don’t have a lot of depth to them. They’re quite linear, and that’s okay, as they serve to underscore the power of Bardem.

The only character to hold their own against him is Kelly Macdonald’s. Her scene with Bardem is laced with tension and the only thing holding me back from outright decrying her as the best supporting actress of the year so far is her limited screen time … though I suppose if Judi Dench can score the Oscar for what she did in the over-hyped “Shakespeare in Love”, then anything goes.

The story itself is nothing too original. Most of it centers on Bardem chasing down Brolin to get the money, with Brolin doing everything he can to shake loose of his pursuer. I give credit to the Coen’s for coming up with some interesting twists and turns to the pursuit (especially a haunting scene of Brolin being chased through a river by a vicious dog). However, when you boil it down, there isn’t anything here that hasn’t really been done before.

Part of my jaded take on the film surely comes from the hype surrounding the film and it’s my fault for not getting to it earlier so I wouldn’t have put up my defenses. Even still, I’d like to think I’ve learned how to shed expectations for the most part and my overall conclusion is that this is a very good suspense film, well worth your time … but it’s probably more impressive considering the lack of good films in the last six months than on its own merits.

Two of my biggest concerns with the film are the pacing and the resolution. While I understand using a slow pace to exemplify the characters and the setting and contrast the quick and brutal violence, towards the end I could really feel time pulling away at me.

Much of that is probably due to the resolution of the story. I don’t mean to give anything away but let’s just say that I wanted more than I got. It was like they were going for a David Cronenberg kind of ending but fell a little short.

Now as it is a Coen brothers film, it was nice to see Stephen Root garner a small cameo and some of their trademark wry humor peppers the film. It’s not all gloom and doom. I think fans of their work will find plenty to like here.

However, being somewhat early in the awards cycle, we’ll see if this has the legs to stay above the late December push but no matter what happens, I put this on the level of “Brokeback Mountain”. Both are well executed films but the marketing push is making a small mountain out of a molehill (an actual unintended pun, write the date down).

I’m giving “No Country for Old Men” a strong 3 out of 5. If the Coen’s could have tightened up the film a little, I could have tipped this an extra point but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. If you like suspense films with psychopathic killers, check this out. However, don’t confuse the hoopla for something else and think that this is something you have to see or you’ll be missing out on the cinematic zeitgeist. It’s not quite that.