Saturday, November 10, 2007

Two From The Weekend

No Country For Old Men

"No Country For Old Men" is a bleak, devastating and even puzzling meditation on lawlessness during the West Texas of 1980. There are so many executions and shoot-outs on desolate small-town streets and cheap motels that one begins to wonder if there's anyone left in the universe except Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). One could almost mistake (and substitute) the apocalyptic-ravaged terrain from Cormac McCarthy's other novel, "The Road", while watching "No Country For Old Men". This is filmmaking of a higher order, styled to pitch-perfect precision in lighting, framing, dialogue and editing. And speaking of editing, its a film that carries forward the Coen Brothers proclivity for creating gaps in time and for losing main characters with the touch of a fade out. That's one aspect of this film that will most likely alienate some viewers. And, to be honest, my first impression of the film after walking out of the theater was that hype had suffocated the energy out of "No Country For Old Men" and prepared me for something "classic" in terms of genre, when in fact its a film that certainly disobeys the rules of formal narrative, character closure and identifiable 'hero worship'. It's only in reflection a day or so later that the film's ambiguous final scene as well as its stubbornness to neatly wrap up the conflicting forces of good and evil begin to sink in- this is a film about something more than the cat and mouse game played between the rube Texas boy, vicious killer and sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones). And there's definitely something more to the film's opening monologue by Jones as well as the explanation of two dreams in the film's disarming final scene. "No Country For Old Men" begs a second (and third) viewing before allowing all of its subtext to creep inside your head. If part of the problem lies in the fact that "No Country For Old Men" is being sold as a dark neo-western noir, then allow me to be the first to say ignore the genre tropes (even though they are staged so well in visual and audible terms) and focus on the undercurrents of shifting time in a landscape (West Texas) represenative of enormous moral and financial change (1980). This is a film that will stay with you for days.

Lions For Lambs

I've always admired Robert Redford and while "Lions For Lambs" doesn't always succeed in it's roundabout manner of lament for our current place and occupation in the Third World, stretches of the film do work well. I could've done without the smarmy word battle between Senator Jasper Irving (Tom Cruise, portraying a character with a name that feels out of touch with real world as well as his age) and done more with the engaging relationship between two athletes (Derek Luke and Michael Pena) who gave up their bright futures for an ice holiday on an Afghan mountaintop. And when their grand moment comes, there's a nice bit of editing that shows exactly what they've given up in more ways than one. "Lions For Lambs" is a noble effort, but not more than that.

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