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Daily Archives: December 4th, 2007

Since another screening of this film will not make its way to my city, I will write this review based on my notes that I took on the movie from the New Orleans Film Festival this year. 

The film opens up (literally) from the eyes of Jean-Dominique Bauby. We hear what he says, but we learn soon he isn’t speaking: we are only hearing his internal monologue.

His body is completely paralyzed, and one of his eyes needs to be sewed up. He sees out one eye, and he uses the one body part he has left to communicate with people around him. Using this same method of communication, he writes a book with the help of a nurse taking dictation.

This story is based in fact, adapted from the book by Bauby, who died about 10 years ago. These events are remarkable, and these last years of his life are a wonderful testament to the human will.

However, the film version doesn’t do a worthwhile job. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly seems to be another movie that expects the audience to love it simply because it’s about someone who did the possible under impossible circumstances. (The ploy appears to be working: as of this writing, the movie is at 100% for Cream of the Crop on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Even though I’m basing this review on notes, they are few and far between, as the movie offers little in the way of (pardon the pun) note-worthiness. Although, i will say, The only part of the movie completely worthwhile is the performance from Max von Sydow. As wonderful as it is, however, I found the movie to be so boring that it overshadowed von Sydow’s fragile work.

The movie only clocks in at a little under two hours, but it feels like ten. The story takes too many detours and back alleys to tell the tale. Even after we get enough of a sense of who Bauby is, we still get stories of when he was well and the time he spent with his father and his wife and other women… Like thick mud, while finding ourselves mushing in the hands of the filmmakers, at the same time, we feel ourselves slipping out slowly.

We are moved at first by the way the story is presented from Bauby’s point-of-view, but its continued use makes it feels like a mere device instead of actually provoking sympathy.  The subjective point-of-view has been used before, and Julian Schnabel doesn’t do anything interesting enough to keep it alive for two hours.

I don’t really know what Schnabel was trying to accomplish. I’m a big fan of Basquiat (Schnabel’s first film): I know he’s talented. But with a weak story and uninspired camera techniques, his hands are tied, and the film suffers, resulting in a whimper of a film rather than a bang.

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Joel and Ethan Coen, the brothers behind the crime dramas Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, and Fargo, had a string of misfires for the past few years. They tinkered with comedies like the brilliant Big Lebowski, but after the unfunny Intolerable Cruelty and their miscalculated remake of The Ladykillers, fans of the writing/directing duo began to lose faith, wondering if the Coens would ever return to form.

But we had a hint when the brothers did a hilarious segment for Paris, je t’aime that they have returned indeed. Now that I have seen No Country for Old Men, I can assure you that the Coens you know and love are back.

Here’s the lowdown: While in the Texas desert, Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) comes upon a drug deal gone bad, consisting of a five-person body count and a dead dog, a truck bed filled with heroin, and a case filled with two million dollars.

The sheriff (played with great understatement by the unbeatable Tommy Lee Jones) tries to track down the money and reach Llewelyn before Anton Chigurh (a vicious and barely recognizable Javier Bardem), a maniacal killer, finds him and the money first.

A bounty hunter (Woody Harrelson) later warns Llewelyn, “Even if [Chigurh] gets the money, he’ll kill you just for inconveniencing him.” Bardem deserves an Oscar nomination (if not a win) for his role as the monstrous character of Chigurh (don’t you love that name?), and Jones should just get an honorary award for all the Oscar-caliber performances he’s ever done: there’s just no competing with him.

Even though the film seems to ask the audience to sympathize with Llewelyn, the real protagonist is the sheriff. He wonders how he, a good man, can work in a profession that forces him to come across so much evil. How much evil can a human being take without becoming evil himself?

Interesting questions abound in the film, and also complicated themes, motifs, and symbols. Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy (this movie is the Coens’ only adaptation to date), the story is rich with visuals and sounds. As a matter of fact, there is only one note of music (during a scene involving a coin toss and a character’s mortality) played during the entire film until the end credits, which allows the sound effects to play as notes and chords normally used to orchestrate a music score.

The ending works, even though many won’t be expecting it, and some will even hate it.  Whether you like the movie or not depends on who you see as the main character. If you choose to follow Llewelyn’s story, and you’re expecting a generic crime-movie ending, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Anyone who focuses on the sheriff will understand the full meaning of the film and will get more out of particular motifs and symbols that don’t apply to Llewelyn.

No Country for Old Men is one of those movies that offers a plateful to the audience, and one may need a second helping to fully grasp what the film has to offer. Consider me already in line to see the movie again.