Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Crime in the New Wild West
Javier Bardem has gotten all the kudos for his portrayal of devil incarnate Anton Chigurh -- he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. But people talk less about Josh Brolin's turn as Llewelyn Moss, the brush hunter who one strange day on the range find's he's no longer the hunter, but the hunted.
My favorite is Tommy Lee Jones (above, right), whose Sheriff Ed Tom Bell couldn't be more natural and less affected. He's an old-timer who admires the old guy sheriffs. Particularly the ones like him who never carry a gun.
Jones is a native of West Texas, where the story is set, and his performance ranks above all others in that film, and that's no minor compliment. He doesn't seem to act, he merely IS Sheriff Ed Tom Bell.
Brolin is wonderful as Moss, the backwoodsman who stumbles upon the remnants of a drug deal gone bad. The story takes place in 1980, just when the U.S.-Mexico drug war is starting to become exceedingly violent. The movie is also appropriately bloody. In the end the body count is as big as the West Texas sky.
Scenes of graphic carnage are offset with black humor. You can chuckle at a setup that leads to mayhem, then gasp at the blood-letting that follows. As is usual with the Coens, you laugh and then wonder why you just laughed.
The director brothers get high marks on their visual storytelling skills in most of their films, and this one hits a high water mark. They let those big, barren Texas landscapes tell the story. There's just enough information in each scene to move the story along. You have to watch closely to keep up.
Yet this tale couldn't be simpler -- it's a cat and mouse chase that rises way above typical brainless "action" movies. There's real character development setting NCFOM apart from 99 percent of the crap out there.
Overall, it's sort of a modern day cowboy, crime, action, comedy -- or something like that. Stark as a lone cactus in the desert. And just as dry as the landscape there.