No Country For Old Men (2007)

(In theaters, November 2007) One of the least-useful conflations out there is the idea that familiar genre structures go hand-in-hand with inferior work. That ignores the lengthy tradition of genre storytelling, the centuries of experimentation to find out that yes, audiences are happier when the story ends with a nice bow and flourish. Mess with these expectations at your own peril and cranky comments. So it is that for 90% of its duration, No Country For Old Men is crackling crime drama film-making, up to the Coen Brother’s own best standards. The pace is measured, the story takes interesting twists and turns, the cinematography is almost perfect and the characters are interesting enough. As one character tries to escape with a suitcase full of money and an implacable killer decides to grab the loot for itself, there are a few terrific suspense scenes, and the film itself is simply mesmerizing. But then there’s the ending. In an effort to stick as closely to the Cormac McCarthy novel as possible, the Coen Brothers deliberately send the film spinning out of control, leaving the plot threads dangling loose as the conclusion dissolves in ever-less-relevant scenes. There are several points at which the film would have been better had it stopped there: hope for equipment malfunction at the right moment. Which is a shame, because otherwise No Country For Old Men ranks as of the the better Coen films. Oh well; nothing perfect.

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