I’d been looking forward to No Country For Old Men for quite some time. Having been rather disappointed by their remake of The Ladykillers I was anxious for something to remind me why I love the films of the Coen Brothers. An adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel seemed just about perfect for them.
One of the reasons I thought this might work for the Coens was actually hidden in Jamie’s recent comment (on the book) that:
The reason I can’t imagine this as a movie is because of McCarthy’s genius, namely his ability to paint such powerful pictures with such a simple palette and so few strokes. McCarthy’s prose is so frugal it borders on being stingy—and somehow (just how?!) he creates an engulfing world with two-bit dialogue and miserly description that says so much with so little.
Contrary to most of their peers they’ve shown a remarkable ability to set the visual and audible tones of their films based on the narrative content. And here they really succeeded.
While the sweeping shots of the sparse Texan landscape are most immediately striking, the real strength of this film is the barrenness of its soundtrack. As this New York Times commentary points out, there are only 16 minutes of music in the entire two hour film and the sound designer and composer worked closely to produce a fittingly minimalist score. As in the best works of Hitchcock, silence is used to build the suspense, and it only takes very subtle sonic touches to underline the creepiness of the most prolific of the movie’s killers.
Perhaps the most interesting thing for me visually was the contrast, or lack of it between the literal desert and the strip mall settings that come to the fore later on. In many ways the two contexts are an extension of one another, with some of the same sweeping shots enforcing the sense of emptiness as you look down an avenue of low colourless buildings. But of course the desert is broken by the odd tree or creek, whereas the strip mall has only poorly shaped neon.
Seeing the film at the Barbican was a real treat. It’s a film that deserves a quiet audience and a good sound system. If you can find it outside of a multiplex, then that will likely be the place to see it.