Monday, March 17, 2008

No Movie for Hopeful Men

I finally saw No Country for Old Men last night. The knock on the movie is that it is nihilistic and morally barren at worst; morally ambivalent at best. First let me say -- the movie is incredibly well-acted and scripted. I lived in West Texas for over 20 years and the cinematography captures the awesome sweep of that landscape perfectly. Josh Brolin's character and his wife are people I've known. I've known my share of West Texas sheriffs also -- and Tommy Lee Jones captures the type very well. The problem -- in the 10 years I worked for and with the Texas criminal justice system and over the 20 or so Texas sheriffs I've met and worked with -- I've not met one who would retire in a way that would be seen as a capitulation to evil. As a group such men have no Pollyanna views that evil will be vanquished in this life. The problem with the Jones character is not the emotions he feels -- many law enforcement have noticed an increase in violence -- especially with the globalization of the drug trade -- it's the way he deals with them. His surrender is nihilistic -- the very embodiment of Edmund Burke's bromide that evil prevails when good men do nothing.

Javier Bardem's character was so unrelentingly evil and sociopathic as to be a monster. He was a slightly less indestructible Terminator or a Jason Voorhies with a shotgun silencer and a pneumatic cattle gun. The movie's ending is ultimately unsatisfying and leads one to believe that there is no justice and that "fate" is implacable -- especially when good men move aside from the conflict in befuddlement and fatigue like Jone's sheriff. The movie is well cast, well-acted, is shot beautifully, and has great pacing, but the ending is empty. I don't need a happy ending, but even a tragic ending can be transcendent. If this were a franchise where we expected Friday the 13th parts 2 through 9 then it would be understandable on a crass commercial level. The fact that the Coens will not do that makes for a disturbing world view. The Coens no doubt get their point across very competently and artistically. Thank God that world is not the one in which we live.

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