Saturday, March 01, 2008

No Movie For Actual People

I haven't seen very many movies lately, I have been working mostly and nothing has much interested me to be quite honest. While toying with the idea of seeing There Will Be Blood, a movie based upon American socialist Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, mainly because Daniel Day-Lewis appears to deliver another amazing performance (as opposed to any affinity I have for the themes of this anti-capitalist story or the originator of them), I decided to throw caution to the wind and see the recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, No Country for Old Men. If you have not seen the movie and are desirous to do so without having plot and ending spoiled for you, then stop reading now.

What an awful film. Unlike other pictures made today which morbidly focus on evil villains, but which still have alternative characters who eventually kill them (for instance Bruce Willis kills John Travolta in Pulp Fiction or Tim Roth gunning down Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs) this movie fails to offer up some alternatives to Javier Bardem's chillingly psychopathic killer. Instead there is an impotent old Texas sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones and a horribly unlucky sap played by Josh Brolin, who achieve nothing. Bardem, playing the evil killer Antoine Cheguern whose entire motivation as a person is basically to kill and rob but mostly to kill, moves through the world as an unstoppable force which the "good" and less evil people in the movie can only pathetically try to avoid before he destroys them, and destroy them he will. Brolin's character (and his wife who I will talk about in a moment) come as close as the film will allow to an actual heroic character in that he is the only one Bardem hunts that he doesn't actually kill, and he injures Bardem at one point.

I will back up for a moment to explain why Bardem is after Brolin. Drug deal between Mexican cartel and American dealers goes bad in the desert, everyone dies and Brolin stumbles upon this and finds an untended case with two million dollars in it which he takes home. Bardem is seemingly some sort of hired gun who the American dealers hire to find the bag, which has a transmitter in it. When they give him the tracking device he, of course, kills them and sets off after Brolin. The dealers then hire Woody from Cheers to track down Brolin and Bardem. Brolin, who is also being chased by the Mexican cartel people, manages to evade and injure Bardem who then proceeds to perform his own medical repairs while Brolin (who is injured) gets treated in a Mexican hospital where he is found by Woody, who tells him about Bardem and the need to make a deal with him (Woody) before Bardem finds him (Brolin). Of course, Woody seemingly forgets his own cautions and gets trapped and subsequently murdered by Bardem without the hope of even putting up a fight. While one can hardly sympathize with Woody's character, this scene is well acted and painful to watch.

So now Bardem threatens the life of Brolin's wife, giving Brolin the unhappy alternative of bringing the money to Bardem and being killed or continuing to run in which case Bardem would kill him, his wife, and get the money anyway. Brolin refuses. Of course, in classic anticlimax the Mexicans kill Brolin, Bardem gets the money, Tommy Lee Jones has a number of pointless conversations, almost unwittingly captures Bardem or gets killed by him depending on how you look at it, and the movie ends. The psychopath walks off into the sunset, unmolested by anything except occasional bad luck, certainly not by any "heroes," they either do not exist anymore or are retired, and babbling, old men (hence the title). The country, and the world, is a place for Bardem and men like him to do as they please.

The most terrible scene in the movie comes very near the end and involves Brolin's widow. So now that her husband, and for good measure mother (who dies of natural reasons I guess), are dead, Brolin's wife returns home to find Bardem waiting to "keep his word." As he had promised her husband that he would kill her, he must finish the job. When she points out that he doesn't have to, he laughs and tries to unburden himself further of responsibility by flipping a coin and telling her to call it. In the only truly heroic action in the movie she refuses to let him escape his responsibility and tells him that he will be the one murdering her, not the coin. Of course, this film is so abysmally bleak that even such heroism cannot prevail against Bardem's unstoppable evil and, without dramatizing it, we all know he kills her.

Tommy Lee Jones's sheriff, the old man in the movie, has the sense and capability to do his job and catch Bardem, but instead throws up his hands to the universe and calls it quits. Moaning about how bad things are (the movie is set around 1980) and shaking his head at how little respect exists compared to when he was younger, he doesn't even pretend to struggle for what it is he values (and even that point of definition is very vague). At the very least Bardem's monster is purposeful, and therein lies the insidious imputation of the film. Evil gets things done (is rewarded) and never is punished in any real way by anything, be it man or the universe, not even that, but people don't even try to stop it from winning.

This is not the world as it can and should be, it's not even the world as it is (not yet anyway, and certainly not in 1980). This is the world as it should never be. It is a horror movie of a different sort than those we are used to. There are no zombies or aliens, no vampires or puppets, not even any insane maniacs (Bardem's character is clearly not "unhinged" in the clinical sense) or the sort of unrelenting campy blood fests which generally characterize that genre. Instead, No Country for Old Men portrays a world where the worst evil does as it pleases, triumphs over everything essentially unopposed and those who know better ramble about dreams and do nothing. "Horror" is the only word fit for that sort of universe.


Apollo said...

That was an exceptional review, I really enjoyed reading it. I hope you do more. . . . maybe even of some good movies, if you can find them.

Alexander said...

Thanks! I certainly enjoyed writing it more than I enjoyed watching the movie I was reviewing.