The Best Picture Winners: No Country for Old Men (2007)

| February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

So, today’s movie isn’t exactly romantic, but I say it is a perfect Valentine for movie lovers.

Cormac McCarthy’s work seems almost to challenge the idea of adaptation.  His words, his characters his tone and his mood are the antithesis of the rip-snorting action crime dramas that a great number of Hollywood executives use as safety nets.  McCarthy paints pictures in your mind so vivid and so haunting that you can’t – and don’t want – to pull them from the page.

If it has to be done, however, you might prefer that it fall into the capable hands of Joel and Ethan Coen, who know how to use images and carefully chosen dialogue to bring to life a crime story that, at its center – is about the futility of human morals.  Here is a crime story that has no true center – like all misdeeds, its machinations are spread far and wide, and so is its trajectory.

What can the movie be about?  Can it be about a drug deal gone wrong?  Yes.  Can it be about a cop who wants to take the money and run?  Yes.  Can it be about a hulking killer whose murderous machinations and intentions are left chillingly unclear?  Absolutely.  When it is done, there are questions to be asked about the motivations, most disturbing of all being “What was it all for?”

McCarthy told the story of No Country for Old Men in words and images that could only be imagined, but the movie is able to honor his work by leaving the most effective moments in the film in the spaces when nothing seems to be happening.  When the movie does talk, it avoids the traps of boiler-plate action dialogue or worse, yet another clumsy attempt to duplicate Tarantino.  Instead, the words are carefully chosen, carefully written, carefully spoken so that we not only hear them but consider them at the same time.  The result is a fascinating
western about the nature of good guys and bad. It runs circles around the so-called revisionist western boasted by Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven by actually examining the way the law and the killers operate – how they work and why they do what they do.

The movie is full of spaces; empty spaces that don’t leave you expecting, but contemplating.  This is one of those unsettling examination on human nature that upend the idea of genre and take you on a journey of images, words and the unexpected joy of contemplating all that you have just seen.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.