January 10th, 2008
This is the highly-praised movie of a highly-praised novel by Cormac McCarthy, which I haven’t read. It was directed by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan (Fargo).
I found the movie diverting - suspenseful, and well-acted - but so badly flawed in its structure that it left me feeling like I’d wasted my time watching it.
Here’s the problem: It has an absorbing first act, in which Texas cowboy Llelwelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) steals a suitcase full of drug money and then tries to stay out of the way of Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the relentless killer who has been sent to get it back. Moss is determined and resourceful, and we become very interested in his progress, but around the midpoint of the movie he’s suddenly dead.
So much for that part. Too bad you liked it! It’s over.
(One of my favourite bits in this first part involves Moss hiding the suitcase in the ductwork of the motel where he’s staying. Then he sets off on a McGyver-like quest for camping supplies, tent poles in particular. What does he want them for? What is his plan? Is he going camping? Why do they have to be so long? Why, to retrieve the suitcase from the ductwork, of course. It’s quietly hilarious, and very Coen-like.)
With Moss out of the picture we have to get interested in the second lead, Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). This character, a gruff Texas lawman from the old school, has become Jones’s specialty. It is the same character that he played in his 2005 directing debut, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which I think is a better movie.
Sheriff Bell sets off in pursuit of the relentless killer Chigurh, who is very frightening. But for my money he is nowhere near as frightening and implacable as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg character in the first Terminator movie (1984, James Cameron). You want implacable? The Terminator was implacable.
The ending, when it finally comes, is stupid. I’m going to reveal it. What difference does it make? The movie just winks to black with nothing resolved, mimicking the equally stupid ending of The Sopranos TV series. Did this work in the book? I don’t know. I can hardly believe it could have.
Most reviewers are falling over themselves with praise for this movie - it gets a rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not me. I just think it’s going to piss you off.
I think the Coen brothers, and Cormac McCarthy, have gained the kind of iconic stature that saves them from being held up to ordinary standards of excellence. This isn’t an excellent movie. It has too many problems.
I recommend you get The Terminator instead. (Don’t bother with the sequels, just the first one.) And give The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada a try. Watch for the scene where a horse falls off a cliff. It’s creepy!
By the weirdest coincidence, there is a new TV show based on the characters from The Terminator. I have it on right now on CTV. It looks ok. It features Summer Glau, “River” from the Firefly series. I like her.