Sunday, January 20, 2008
Doubtless the Coen Brothers' film No Country for Old Men has been receiving the rave reviews it richly deserves - I don't know for sure because I haven't read them, film critics trouble me. Anyway, even if they hated it - perfectly possible - No Country is a magnificent piece of work for all sorts of reasons. I shall pick out one. The Coens have always attracted epithets like 'weird' or 'strange'. The reason for this is they tend to let things be what they are without loading them with narrative or thematic sense. Shakespeare did this. One of the points people routinely make about his plays is every character, however trivial, is a complete human being, he lets them live, as it were, outside the play - a phenomenon brilliantly exploited by Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The Coens have always done this, though, because they use film, their completeness also applies to objects and, in No Country, to a couple of dogs. This is a very radical approach because it subverts questions like 'Why?' or 'What does it mean?'. Yet they have always been superb storytellers, every scene contains something, usually many things, that makes you need the next scene. In No Country their method attains a new perfection. The storytelling is breathtaking, yet, as in an old New England house, everything seems isolated in space and time, everything is allowed to be what it is. Secondary characters - in particular, a gas station owner and a motel receptionist - are so vividly realised that they are both permitted to steal their scenes from the stars. I guess everybody's talking about Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones, but let's hear it for Gene Jones and Margaret Bowman. Anyway, if you want to now about movies and a truly single- (well, double-) minded approach to style, you will have to see No Country twice now and half a dozen times on DVD.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:34 am