Film Review: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Release Date: May 19th, 2007 (Cannes)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant, Stephen Root, Garret Dillahunt

Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Miramax Films, Paramount Vantage, 122 Minutes

Review:

“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

While the Coens have made some fantastic films over the last several decades, going back to 1984’s Blood Simple, this picture is in the upper echelon of their rich oeuvre. Yet, in a lot of ways, it calls back to Blood Simple in style and for blending together different genres in a unique way. It is also very similar to Fargo, as both films follow a small town cop dealing with a grisly crime from out-of-towners and it is accented by a lot of violence on screen.

Some have called No Country for Old Men a western, others have called it a film-noir. While it takes place in more modern times than the traditional settings of those genres, it does share elements of both. It is very much a neo-western and also a neo-noir in its narrative style. I think that is a big part of what makes this such an extraordinary picture though. It is a hybrid and reinvention of multiple styles but it all weaves together like a gritty, balls out tapestry of masculine intensity.

Other than being in the very capable hands of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the film boasts an incredible cast, mostly of badass men.

First, you have Josh Brolin and this is the role that really put him on the map and sort of resurrected his career, as he isn’t remembered for much before this other than in his teen years when he played Brand in 1985’s The Goonies. He was perfectly cast here, as a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes a case of money and finds himself in way over his head. Essentially, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Then you have Javier Bardem as the evil hitman Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s Chigurh has become one of the greatest villains in movie history, mainly because of how unusual he is as a person and in how he executes his targets. Chigurh is scary as hell, period. His method of killing is to use a bolt pistol on his targets. A bolt pistol is a tool that uses compressed air to send a bolt through the heads of cattle before their slaughter. In a sense, Chigurh is a remorseless, cold blooded killer and his choice of weapon goes to show that he sees human beings as nothing more than cattle that need to be put down if they find themselves in his path. Although, the fates of some characters are decided by Chigurh flipping a coin, similar to Two-Face from the Batman franchise.

The film also gives us Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Jones plays the sheriff that is trying to contain the violence that is running rampant in his county, Harrelson plays a bounty hunter and acquaintance/rival of Chigurh, while Corbin plays a sort of mentor to Jones’ sheriff character. With Jones, we see a sheriff that also finds himself in over his head and is admittedly “outmatched” by the evil in his world. Harrelson, while a bounty hunter, finds himself in the sights of another killer. Like Brolin, these other characters are also on the side of the coin that they aren’t familiar with.

No Country for Old Men is known for its level of violence. While there is a lot of it, I don’t think that it is as violent as the book. However, seeing it come alive on screen is effective. It isn’t done in a way that is gratuitous or to be celebrated or used as a cheap parlor trick to sell the movie, it is presented in a way that shows it in a negative light, something that the sane characters abhor. It exists as almost a commentary against itself but to also shed light on a very real level of violence that exists along the U.S.-Mexican border. While this takes place in 1980, not much has changed in that region.

Two things that really make the film as impactful as it is, on an emotional level, are the film’s score by Carter Burwell and the cinematography by the veteran Roger Deakins. For Deakins, this film was sandwiched between his work on In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are some strong visual similarities between the three films and they are three of the best looking motion pictures of 2007.

At this point, No Country for Old Men is considered to be a classic and for good reason. It won four Oscars, the most important being Best Picture. It also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It shared the most nominations with There Will Be Blood but it beat it out in awards won. As to which is better, that’s open for debate.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2017 (Edinburgh premiere)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Porno and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly Macdonald, Shirley Henderson

Film4, Creative Scotland, Cloud Eight Films, DNA Films, Decibel Films, TriStar Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Nostalgia! That’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth. Just ’cause you had a near-death experience and now you’re feeling all fuzzy and warm. What other moments will you be revisiting?” – Simon

It is hard to come back and make a sequel to anything twenty years later but Danny Boyle did just that. He had talked about a Trainspotting sequel almost as long as it has been since the first one in 1996. Originally, he talked about it picking up with these characters nine years later. Well, it actually took just over twenty before we got to see where these guys ended up.

T2 Trainspotting is a much more sober picture than its predecessor but it still matches that original film in style and tone. Granted, it is hard to match the level of darkness that the first film had and really, these characters aren’t in that same sort of chemically induced rut. They still have problems but they’re different problems, even if their old lifestyle still hovers over their heads like a black cloud, always ready to rain down and remind them of where they’ve been and the pain they shared.

The story catches up with Renton and his return to Edinburgh, two decades after he pulled a heist with his friends and double crossed them, taking the money for himself. He has no choice but to return home and in the process, has to try and repair the damage he did. He tries to help Spud and goes into business with Sick Boy, who now just uses his real name: Simon. The real x-factor is Begbie, who may be even more insane than he was twenty years earlier, before spending years in prison.

There are a lot of twists and turns with this film and I might almost call it a neo-noir. There is crime, betrayal and a sort of femme fatale in the mix. Plus, it deals with some pretty dark subject matter and has a pretty impressive visual style.

I like this on the same level that I like the first film but I like them for very different reasons, because even though they deal with he same people, the same place and the same sort of scheming, they are both very different pictures. Danny Boyle did a superb job in resurrecting this world and giving it new life that wasn’t just derivative of the first. Like life, it showed how people evolve and change but are ultimately who they are at their core.

Also, like the first, the film is propelled by the pop music selections of the director. There isn’t a traditional score but there is a real energy running through the film due to the great music Boyle has sewn together from scene to scene.

I don’t think that all Trainspotting fans will enjoy the sequel, as much as I did. It really depends on what you’re looking for in it. But for me, I’m someone that isn’t too far off from the age of these characters. I understand the place they were in twenty years ago and I see how I have evolved in that time and how these characters can and should be different than who they were in their youth.

This film brings Boyle’s original picture full circle and it does leave you with hope for most of these characters. Also, after this second chapter, you feel much more connected and emotionally invested in Renton, Simon and Spud.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Trainspotting (1996)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1996 (UK)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald

Channel Four Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Miramax Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We took morphine, diamorphine, cyclizine, codeine, temazepam, nitrazepam, phenobarbitone, sodium amytal, dextropropoxyphene, methadone, nalbuphine, pethidine, pentazocine, buprenorphine, dextromoramide, chlormethiazole. The streets are awash with drugs you can have for unhappiness and pain, and we took them all. Fuck it, we would have injected vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.” – Mark “Rent-boy” Renton

I haven’t watched this film in quite awhile but with its sequel finally coming out, 21 years later, I had to revisit this before seeing the long awaited followup.

Trainspotting, as much as I enjoyed it in my teens and twenties, is a better film than I remembered, seeing it now in my thirties. Or maybe, I just have a bigger appreciation for what’s good in film now that I’m older.

Out of everything that I’ve seen from director Danny Boyle, this is still my favorite of all his films. How does something so stylized feel so real? His use of music and the cinematography he employed create a hip yet gritty world that is very much a product of the 90s while tapping into the vibe of the 80s.

This is also a film that is perfectly cast. Ewan McGregor shines as Rent-boy and his crew are like chaotic satellites crashing into each other and everything else in his orbit.

The film is a perfectly orchestrated mess populated with characters who are tragic, insane, sad and wild but still relatable even in a highly exaggerated state. If you have ever been around real drug addicts, you have experienced these types of characters. Hell, if you went to good parties in high school or college, people like this were everywhere, at least in the 90s when I experienced my youth.

The camerawork in this picture is fantastic and a lot of the shots are mesmerizing, even if they exist in an uncanny level of filth and squalor. The toilet scene is one of the most disgusting things in cinema history but it is so well captured that you can’t look away from it and you have to appreciate the artistry behind it.

Boyle was a guy slightly ahead of the curve. Other directors employed similar techniques in countless attempts to mimic this film but Boyle brought something to the table that set him apart and to this day, still keeps his work, in this picture, far above the imitators.

This is a rough picture to get through if you’re not prepared to truly experience this lifestyle at its lowest. It is rough even if you are prepared but it is a film with a pretty stark message about addiction and how it can literally possess people in the worst ways. It is also about trying to overcome that chemical possession and truly finding a way to live again.

Between the narration, the despicable crew of screwed up youths and the overall style of the film, there are a lot of parallels between this and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It is easy to see that this film was inspired by that 1971 masterpiece but it is still very much its own thing. There is even a scene in a bar that looks very much like the bar from Clockwork and it almost gives you a sense that maybe this does exist in that world, decades later.

Rating: 9/10