No Country for Old Men

Admittedly, I’m a little late jumping on this particular band wagon, but thanks to my rental list, I’m now up to speed with what all the fuss was about at the 2008 Oscars.  I had read the book before watching, which may normally give me the excuse I need for not having seen the movie till now, but the book takes precious little time to get through.

Cormac McCarthy’s approach to the book seems to be an exercise in minimalist writing.  The reader enters the story at the absolute latest possible moment and leaves the story at the earliest opportunity.  In between are pages of modest dialogue; modest by way of the word count, but as punchy and terse as any hard-boiled crime fiction, and sporadic descriptive text to keep us up to speed with the locale and the action.  Yet, whilst keeping a minimalist approach, the story grips you from the outset and does not let go until, rather like Llewelyn Moss, you feel like you’ve been put thoroughly through the wringer.

The film follows the book in style and content almost to the letter.  The book does almost read like a screenplay, so the Coen brothers’ task to transfer the book into screenplay format must have taken little more than copying it in to Final Draft.  And this is where I learnt a little about the Academy Award fro Best Adapted Screenplay, which the Coen brothers duly won with this.  My initial reaction was that I, or anyone, could have won that award with such excellent source material.  But, then, isn’t that the point?  That the finished movie is a direct adaptation of the source on which it is based rather than a bastardised version abbreviated or expanded upon to meet the perceived cinemagoer requirements.  In fact, the only part of the book that had been tampered with was the drastic reduction of a character, only seen in the movie as Moss passes the motel pool, who was quite prevalent towards the end.

Still, to turn this book into a bad movie would be easy, as you could get blasé over the ease at which you can adapt it.  So, the Coen brothers sidestepped that pitfall by using actors and locations that suited the story to a T.  Tommy Lee Jones has enough of his usual cragginess to play the world weary Ed Tom Bell and Javier Bardem is movie stealingly good as the frightening Anton Chigurh, in spite of his hairstyle’s passing resemblance to Clint Boon of the Inspiral Carpets.  Josh Brolin surprised me with his effortless cool as Llewelyn Moss and the minor appearances of Kelly MacDonald and Woody Harrelson provided excellent support.

No doubt, as with most of the Coen brothers’ films, it won’t be to all tastes, but I thought it was an excellent visualisation of the book.  I can’t honestly remember seeing a film that was more faithful to the source material – the caveat being one where I have read the source material too, so I am bale to compare.

My rating: 4/5


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