Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.
I suppose I should say at the outset that this IS a good movie. You should see it. Its all about the writing, though.
McCarthy's writing style comes after the Clancy/Ludlum model where things are diced into parallel episodes but unified in a grand arc driven by the cosmic principle that good triumphs and the bad guys get punished. This has become the cinematic norm, so whenever we pass through a scene-story, we know how it fits in a universe powered by a machine of justice.
McCarthy has the intelligence to open the world, introducing into his novels the notion of apparently unraveled justice. We do have episodes. We do cling to some of the traditional formula: drugs, mob boss, the hunted, the west, the champion of justice. Each of these is used conventionally. Its no accident that Tommy Lee was selected to play the part, because we assume he will be the hunter from Fugitive, the agent who adjusts things to their proper order. Its no accident that all the ordinary pieces of this are made from the same stuff we'd find in airport books and their coincident movies.
But its also no accident that McCarthy's books draw on the cinematic revolution. His images assume that you can see, not imagine. That way he can do two novel things. One is that he can show by not showing, for instance Moss's actual death. This separation between the imagined and the shown also allows him to elevate the imagined into substance. This film, for instance, starts and ends with annotative stories. They aren't directly linked to the action we see, but they have agency, power and they come close enough to being parallel episodes that we accept them as relevant.
The other cinematic notion that McCarthy uses is noir, and I am certain that it is what attracted the Coens. They've spent their entire careers surrounding this notion, probing it from all directions. In absolute terms, what defines noir is the notion that the machinery of the universe is arbitrary and linked to the act of viewing. That "viewing" piece has stickiness, because it involves us in what happens to the characters in the world we witness. McCarthy makes us explicitly complicit in the unraveling of ordinary, even expected justice.
Its all wonderful. Its all perfectly comprehended and presented by the Coens. Its clean. It works. Its poetic and deserves to be near the top of anyone's list. If nothing else, the Coens know how to end a movie, probably the most elusive element of narrative skillcraft.
So why am I unhappy?
Because the Coens play a special role in my film life. They are the folks who play games, who explore, who tease and question. They are the Bob Dylans of film. When they create something it has all sorts of extra annotative froth in it, usually cinematic in nature. Its baroque introspection where they pile twisted ironies on top of dishonest self-reference. They are the master of woven layers, of meandering narrative stance. They break where breaks are needed and not expected. They write their own vision, and clearly have that vision first.
Here, they start with someone else's vision already written. Here they stick to the clean, the bones not the coral. Here they deliver directness. Their ambiguity is direct, not tangled.
Yes, I can celebrate what they've done here. And sure I can say that they did well. But isn't that what we have Ang Lee for? PT Andersen? Sean Penn? When the Coens simply rely on their competence, they steal from us the things that they uniquely can do: confabulate and confuse reality. Now that Woody is all but retired, we need them more than ever, Dude.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
- Dec 10, 2007