A man who finds a satchel of money in the desert is pursued by a deadly hitman.
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Tommy Lee Jones
Review by Jon Kissel
No Country For Old Men is indicative of both how good its directors are and what a phenomenal year for movies 2007 was. This is a film that has it all: memorable characters, quotable lines, thrilling setpieces, a coherent worldview, the perfect amount of humor to leaven the darkness, and something to say about how we view history and justice and cause and effect. It’s all those things, while also being arguably Joel and Ethan Coen’s sixth or seventh best film and barely cracking my personal top 5 for 2007 releases. That this near-perfect film is relegated to those kinds of finishes makes me want to watch Fargo or Ratatouille again, but we’re here to praise No Country first.
Of the South Korean directors who have entered Western orbits, Lee Chang-dong lacks the genre experimentation of Bong Joon-ho and the over-the-top melodrama of Park Chan-wook, and therefore his unflashy films have probably been seen by the least amount of people. His work is dense and cerebral in a way that Park or Bong often are, but Lee lacks the sexy hooks. The universal praise and Netflix availability of Lee’s Burning will hopefully change that. A far more accessible film than his previous, also excellent film Poetry, Burning is instantly recognizable first as a love triangle and then a thriller, a film tied to its country of origin but not so much that it becomes foreign to a non-Korean viewer. Burning can be taken in on its surface as a compelling tripartite potboiler or one can dig deeper and find a consideration of class, gender, resentment, and entitlement. With so much to offer, it’s a towering work of international cinema and not something to be overlooked.
The trope of the detective whose mental irregularities manifest as brilliance has mostly been a part of recent television, since it provides an easy way into the protagonist as anti-hero, another preferred path for ‘prestige’ TV. House, The Good Doctor, Sherlock, Monk, even my beloved Hannibal are all examples, and Kenneth Branagh provides a cinematic equivalent in his adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. A story that has many versions, I don’t know if earlier ones needed to find a reason for star detective’s Hercule Poirot’s forensic genius, but it’s 2017 on this version’s release, so Poirot is portrayed as being crippled with the burning need to have everything in its right place, which therefore makes him adept at finding irregularities. Whether or not this added depth of character makes Branagh’s version better or worse is an open question, and one the film doesn’t spend enough time caring about. As much as Branagh attempts to update Agatha Christie’s mystery for the present, there doesn’t seem to be much to justify its existence beyond a popular taste for true crime stories.
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but writing about classic movies through a modern lens is difficult. I don’t know how novel a film was for its time, and its novelty may have been imitated so much that it loses all meaning, to say nothing of the evolution of tones and tastes over the decades. In the case of The Third Man, a film acclaimed as the greatest British movies ever made and currently #73 on Sight and Sound’s top 250 list of lists, this is especially true. Gray morality and anti-heroes were a new thing in the late 1940’s, but they’ve been old hat now for a long time. The modern version of The Third Man is easily imaginable now, but the original is so skewed in tone that it’s like looking at the chart of man’s evolution. Carol Reed’s film is barely walking upright while later films like Chinatown or Blade Runner or Collateral or Nightcrawler are running on two legs.
HBO’s original programming, consisting of series, movies, and miniseries, have a clear laggard in that trio. The movies don’t have anywhere near the cultural persistence that either series or miniseries have, despite HBO’s considerable marketing and development prowess. The standard format for feature-length films are adaptations of real events, and the strictures of sticking to history don’t let the actors do much more than impressions of well-known figures while the directing is utilitarian A-to-B event tracking. These are sometimes great, like the you-are-there history of Path to War or Conspiracy of the early-aughts, but have lately been Al Pacino in a series of bizarre wigs or make-up as he trolls for Emmy awards by playing disgraced public figures. Literary adaptations are more comfortable in the miniseries category (Empire Falls, Olive Kitteridge), and after reading the Wikipedia plot description of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, that may have been the better route. Ramin Bahrani attempts to cram a lot of plot and character motivation into 100 minutes, and ends up exchanging believable arcs and actions for ostentatious camera movement and bludgeoning political satire. If this is the art that survives the Second Civil War, we’re in trouble.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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