No Country For Old Men (2007)

No country for younger women, either.

Some of my literary-minded friends are big fans of Cormac McCarthy, but I’ve never read his work.  After watching this movie, I’m not sure that I want to start.  I have trouble getting behind a film so abstruse.  It’s hard to talk about this movie without spoilers, such as they are, so you’ve been warned now.

The film centers around three characters, who are indirectly tied to each other.  There’s Anton, the psychopathic killer off on a killing spree that is apparently (but not clearly, to me) connected to the random Mexican shootout-style execution in the desert.  That’s where the second character, Llewelyn (an unusually popular name for these Coen Brothers’ films), comes in.  He’s stumbled upon a truckload of heroin and a satchel of money, which sets Anton on his trail with often mystical precision.  Then, just for the hell of it, there’s a sheriff, Ed Tom, who seems to be investigating the string of murders, but doesn’t seem very good at the job considering he never comes close to catching the bad guy.

Maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I didn’t really get what was happening most of the time, beyond the immediate danger of someone escaping the obvious fate of a weird air-pumped bullet to the face.  Stuff happened, and then it stopped happening, and I was left wondering what the hell the point was.  Even one of the main characters randomly died off-camera, with absolutely no fanfare, such that I wasn’t even sure he was actually dead until the end credits roll.  Sure, I suppose I’m just a sucker for clear narrative arcs and relatable characters.  If I had to sum up my experience with this film, it would be:  “Um, what?”

Oh, and just in case my feelings are not yet clear, I’d like to complain about the affectation of the characters’ speech, specifically that of Ed Tom.  Okay, maybe there are in fact people who say “fixin’ to” do stuff and all that, but in this movie, to me, it just comes off as forced “country” talk, too affected for the characters to feel totally genuine.  It’s dialogue for people who aren’t country folk but want to pretend to be a macho Western sheriff for a while.  That’s fine, I guess, but that’s not me.

Many of my friends (probably even some of you reading this right now) are fans of the Coen Brothers.  I guess Fargo was okay, but I didn’t see the appeal of The Big Lebowski, and I’ve probably not seen any of the others.  What am I missing?

 

Theme:  Crime Spree

First Time Watching?  Yes, and last

Final Verdict:  Just a coin

 

 

 

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The Departed (2006)

Just recently, I heard “I’m Shippin’ Up to Boston” for the first time in ages.  It was one of those ubiquitous songs back when this movie came out, especially in Boston.  People crap their pants when they hear the name of their city in popular culture.  I don’t know why.  City names are pretty much interchangeable.  I’m shippin’ up to Juneau WHOA-OH-OA!

So, yeah.  In case you didn’t realize, this movie takes place in Boston.  Some of the characters seem a little uncertain about whether they’re from Boston or not, based on their curious relationship with the letter R.  I found the variability of accents rather interesting as a Boston transplant, because it was years before I actually began interacting with people with local accents on a regular basis, and this film makes it seem like every resident of Boston has to make an attempt at it.  In reality, there are so many people like me who came as students that it feels like a different place entirely from the gang-driven world of The Departed.  I mean, not that I’m complaining.

I’m going to spoil this movie here, but everybody dies by the end.  Everybody.  It’s like the end of Hamlet, where you kind of wonder who the hell is going to run Denmark now, but you’re never going to find out because it’s all over.  To be fair, the title of the movie kind of gives it away.  Apparently nobody is dearly departed, but they’re dead nonetheless.

Most of this movie was really enjoyable.  It was full of tension and humor, with the sort of skillful dramatic irony to keep it interesting, and a few extra secrets kept until the end.  But it’s the final half-hour or so that frustrated me.  Unlike in Shakespeare’s tragedies, I couldn’t really see the point to it all once everyone kicked it. As a result, nothing was left ambiguous or open-ended.  Maybe you can feel satisfied that whoever you hated got his comeuppance, but that’s tempered by the realization that nobody came out a victor, either.  Except maybe the shrink.  She slept with not one, but two, of her patients and probably didn’t even lose her license or anything.

Leo finally got his Oscar.  Whitey Bulger finally got caught and sent to jail.  They’ve stopped playing the Dropkick Murphys song constantly.  All is well in Boston.

 

Theme:  undercover

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Hot psychiatrist pick-up line:  “Have I seen you…professionally?”

The French Connection (1971)

One of the difficult parts of watching older films is that you inevitably find things that seem overplayed or cliché, but you can’t tell whether that was the case at the time or if its techniques were novel.  For example, if you were to picture a car chase scene in a movie, one of the things you might recall being a common trope is the “woman with baby stroller narrowly avoids getting hit by out-of-control car in chase.”  But was this new at the time, or already a joke by 1971?

The other thing about a film like this is that you’re not really sure whether the anti-hero trope is yet overplayed.  These days, you can’t shake a stick without thwacking an anti-hero (who will probably thwack you back in response to your thwacking), and I suspect the early 70s wasn’t too early to catch the cynicism and ethical grayness that brings out the average anti-hero.  And as much as I love me a good ol’ anti-hero, I’m a little underwhelmed by Popeye Doyle’s tough guy persona in this film.  I suppose it’s just a personal preference thing – to me, anti-heroes are only interesting when you get a sense of what drives a character to make the decisions he makes.  I don’t really get that sense of interiority here; I don’t understand what drives Popeye, which ultimately makes him not very sympathetic to me.  Especially when you take into account the body count in this film, much of them thanks to Popeye himself.

The French Connection, according to Wikipedia, was apparently a common term for a certain period when heroin was smuggled into the U.S. from Turkey and beyond via France.  I wasn’t familiar with that, so this little chapter on the War on Drugs was something new.  Given that most of the country (and perhaps beyond) is in the midst of an opioid crisis, it’s interesting how timely this feels.  Yet also simplistic.  There’s a sense of the stakes here – admittedly ramped up for the sake of the movie – that suggests how much of an impact this one drug bust will prove.  Popeye and his unit break out all the stops to catch this one dealer, and there’s a genuine feel that this will truly have an impact on the addicted guys hanging out in the bar waiting for their next fix.  We don’t see that there’s another shipment right behind it.

Too cynical a view, perhaps?  Well, don’t blame me.  I’m just rolling with the bleak outlook these kinds of film demand.

I’ll be honest:  I was kind of expecting to enjoy this more than I did.  I figured that it would be more plot driven and exciting than the typical Best Picture biopic, that it might be wittier or more of a mystery than a straight up thriller.  And to be fair, I watched it while a bit distracted by other things, so there were some moments when I’m sure I missed something.  Either that, or I just suck at following storylines.  Instead, I found it kind of ponderous in parts, occasionally hard-to-follow, and without a sense of character that I find in more recent films (or, for that matter, books).  It also didn’t surprise me.  When somebody, a “good guy,” was shot near the end, I thought for a moment that he was actually playing for the bad guys, but that would be too surprising a twist, I guess.  Instead, we watch another good guy make questionable decisions and try to convince ourselves that he’s still the hero.

 

Theme:  undercover

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  I’m picking my feet in Poughkeepsie.