by Marc Glassman
No Country for Old Men. Ethan & Joel Coen, directors, writers, co-producers and editors; Roger Deakins, cinematography. Starring: Josh Brolin (Llewelyn Moss), Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh), Tommy Lee Jones (Ed Tom Bell), Woody Harrelson (Carson Wells), Kelly MacDonald (Carla Jean Moss).
Jimmy Carter Man From Plains. Jonathan Demme, director. Feature documentary starring Jimmy Carter.
P2. Franck Khalfoun, director & co-writer. Starring: Rachel Nichols (Angela Bridges), Wes Bentley (Thomas).
No Country for Old Men.
A tough as nails thriller set in the American southwest, No Country for Old Men is one of the most accomplished films of the year. The Coen Brothers, who have created some such superb film noirs as Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing, have outdone themselves in this superb adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Not since Fargo have the gifted but eccentric brothers treated material in such a sober manner; for once, there is no hint of parody in the work. Given the brilliance of the book, their respectful attitude is fitting.
That same attitude resonates with the actors, who acquit themselves marvelously. Josh Brolin is terrific as Llewelyn Moss, a good old Southern boy turned middle-aged man who stumbles on a pot of gold—an illegal stash of drug money–and then has to use every bit of his wit and cunning to keep it and stay alive. Equally strong is Javier Bardem playing against type as a cold-blooded psychopathic killer out to take Moss’ ill-gotten gains away from him. Tommy Lee Jones is rock-solid as the Southern Sheriff with a conscience, who works against the odds to save Moss.
A charming Woody Harrelson playing yet another hired gun and Kelly MacDonald as Moss’ wife, Carla Jean, ably support this triumvirate of leads. The great cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Assassination of Jesse James, In the Valley of Elah) captures the melancholy beauty of Texas sunsets in the vast landscape that is the frontier of the American west.
No Country for Old Men will doubtless garner much praise and its fair share of awards. If there is a caveat to one’s full enjoyment of the film, it’s that the Coen brothers have created a wonderful genre exercise rather than a great movie. Hidden in the script and in McCarthy’s novel is a finely wrought despair for an America that is in decline, its idealism and even its pragmatism in disarray. While one can see that is what the Coens want us to take away from the film—and it certainly is apparent in Tommy Lee Jones’ effective final soliloquy—No Country for Old Men is ultimately more of a thriller and less of a grand statement on America.
Jimmy Carter Man From Plains
What is it with failed Democratic politicians, documentaries and the Nobel Prize? Following in the footsteps of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth comes Jimmy Carter Man from Plains in which acclaimed filmmaker Jonathan Demme and his documentary crew accompany the former President on the tour for his controversial book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.
Demme captures the media frenzy surrounding Carter’s position that the Palestinians are being subjected to separation and imprisonment in their own country. From the man who brokered the détente between Israel and Egypt, this was headline-making news. The best section of Demme’s doc covers the way America’s broadcast journalists treated Carter and his book—with a mixture of fear-mongering, superficiality and, oddly, respect for his age and former position of power.
Where the film goes astray is in its structure. Shockingly, given his long record of directing documentaries, including such hits as Stop Making Sense, Swimming to Cambodia and The Agronomist, Demme doesn’t come to grips with the material Carter provided for him. Demme couldn’t seem to figure out whether he was covering a book tour or telling the tale of Carter’s complicated relationship to the Middle East or creating a portrait of a complex, charming religious man who has accomplished astonishing goals in his career—and suffered grievous defeats.
Apparently, Demme and crew shot over 400 hours of footage of Jimmy Carter’s tour. One of the film’s producers, Neda Armian has commented that, “Jonathan often joked that our film is the teaser for our ambitious DVD. And he is right!” My suggestion? Wait for the DVD.
On my way into the screening of the new psycho thriller P2, I saw a mouse. It was little and probably ill but it startled me more than anything in this film. The banal plot involves a psycho underground (P2—get it?) parking lot attendant who makes an uptight but pretty office worker’s Christmas eve much more hellish than even her family could have done.
The blueprints for this genre—Hitchcock’s Psycho and Polanski’s Repulsion—dealt with people whose lives had resonance. You cared about what happened to them. And that created genuine fear and terror.
Here a nice but repressed white collar worker is subjected to sadistic attacks—for what? In the end, the attendant calls her a bad name and she finally gets angry. Huh? Eeek, I just saw another mouse!