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No Character Development For Old Men

April 20, 2008

You know, I love the Coen brothers.  Joel and Ethan Coen have created some of the most off-beat and fantastic movies and characters in the history of cinema.  In fact, in their oeuvre, I would say only Blood Simple stands out as a truly bad movie.  The rest range from “good” to “I have to wear diapers because I laughed so hard”.  Even Miller’s Crossing, which I found to be a rather bland crime drama, stands up there with some of the best crime dramas in history.

So it hurts me to see them falter on something like No Country For Old Men.  Now I realize they are merely adapting a book (Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same title), so I’m hoping that the shortcomings of this movie are the fault of Mr. McCarthy and not of the Coens.

Let’s get the good news out of the way first.  The acting is great on all accounts.  Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, and Josh Brolin all turn in very good performances.  I’m not sure Bardem deserved a Best Actor nod from the Academy for his performance, but it was still very good.

The cinematography is very well done, with gorgeous framing, lighting, etc., throughout the entire film.  The music (what little there was) was well done and fit the scenes perfectly.

Now on to the bad news.  As I said, the acting was great, but unfortunately, the weak source material didn’t allow the actors to fully explore their characters.  There was ZERO character development throughout the entire film.  Josh Brolin ends up exactly the same person he started the film as, as did Bardem and Jones.  There were no epiphanies, no revelations, and there was no growth for any character in the film.  This left me not caring about any of the characters because they were so two-dimensional.

Also, there seemed to be a good amount of superfluous characters and scenes.  The movie would have been just as decent without Woody Harrelson’s character.  He provided nothing to the final cut.  His whole minor storyline could have been cut and nothing would have been lost.  Barry Corbin (a favorite actor of mine since his work in Northern Exposure) also had a pointless character.  It seemed like his only purpose in the movie was to allow Tommy Lee Jones to have some exposition.  And the biggest problem turned out to be Jones’ character himself.  What the hell was the point of him in this movie?  Jones did a good job acting his part, but his part was pointless.  Not having read McCarthy’s novel, I can’t comment on the superfluousness of those characters in the scope of that book, but I know that in the movie, they presented nothing worthwhile to the overall storyline.  If the novel goes in to greater detail about why these characters are necessary to the story, then those details get lost in the movie.  And if those details ARE in the novel, then this points to a poor translation job on the part of the screenwriter/adapter.  Hopefully, for the sake of the Coen brothers, those weaknesses in characters were in the source material.

Now, how this movie won Best Picture over other contenders like There Will Be Blood is beyond me.  Is this Hollywood’s way of asking forgiveness for not giving the Best Picture award to Fargo in 1997?  I hope that’s the case, because it’s the only way to explain this movie being considered the best movie of 2007.  It was good, but it certainly wasn’t the best and the award was not deserved.

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