16 January 2008

Filmbook: No Country For Old Men (2007)

When I finally got around to reading Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel, I was sitting on a plane that was experiencing a series of delays. Between threatening weather at our destination, on-the-ground traffic and the announcement that 11 people would be removed from the flight because of weight restrictions, I should have been worrying about getting home. Instead, I was worrying about being chased a violent psychopath running around the border towns of the U.S. and Mexico.

I was bowled over by NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The movie version of "No Country" did not exactly give me that same feeling, but I can understand how critics who saw it would come out freaked out and marked, because that's how I felt when I finished the book. When I shut its red covers, it seemed to faintly vibrate in my hand, binding me to the world it takes place in -- a world that couldn't be further away from me and my life. I went to see this movie deliberately at a matinee so I would be able to emerge in daylight, and I was still frightened. (My movie buddy on this, my dad, claimed he had a nightmare after seeing the trailer. No word on whether he's having nightmares now because I made him see the attendant flick. Love you, Dad.)

I completely understand why the Coen brothers chose to approach this material and I think they did a really good job adapting it. There's one major change to the plot, which I didn't like, but which I will discuss in a comment because it's a big ol' spoiler. A major advantage the movie has over the book is its setting; while filmed mostly in Nevada [Thanks, Anonymous in New Mexico in the comments!], it uses just enough sweeping rural vistas to convey the country that will serve as a playing field for the characters (naive Llewelyn, menacing Anton, the resigned sheriff). Because McCarthy's descriptions are typically terse, the visual matching of those moments was great. Another credit I must give the brothers Coen is that they excised my least favorite part of the book, in which the sheriff and a buddy discourse on modern manners and morals. There's just a hint of that in the movie, which I think is enough.

"No Country for Old Men" isn't in my top 5 movies of 2007, but it was definitely one of the most memorable books. Considering how outside my genre this stands, that's high praise.

Filmbook verdict: Read the book, then see the movie.

Poster: Fifthamendmentking. I never saw this one anywhere, but I really like it.


Ellen said...


This comment will spoil a major plot point from the end of "No Country for Old Men."

Turn back now...

OK: In the book, Llewelyn takes up with a teenage drifter right before he's killed. She comes onto him and expects him to seduce her; he never does so, but when his body is found, hers is found nearby, suggesting to his widow that he was cheating on her.

I thought this was a beautiful cruel irony, and was surprised that it wasn't used in the movie at all. I guess the girl at the pool is the stand-in for that girl, but that's just a moment compared to their scenes in the book. Maybe I'm just sore about this because I thought Llewelyn's wife (Kelly Macdonald) was drawn so well, and maybe the teenager would get a similarly captivating treatment. On a podcast I listened to about the movie, one viewer speculated that the reason they didn't include the teenage-drifter segment is that audiences would assume they slept together whenever time had elapsed. I don't know if I completely buy that theory... is it so hard to believe?... but there you go. (Listen to the podcast here.)

Now I have to go let the Dobermans out so Anton Chigurh won't get in. Just kidding!

Anonymous said...

It was filmed primarily in NEW MEXICO not Nevada. Some in Texas where the book is depicted.

Get your facts straight before posting.

Emily said...

I think audiences would have been confused, but also the girl at the end of the movie was older and less desperate and naive than the girl in the book, so it kind of seemed like he was into her in the movie. At the end of the movie they didn't show the girl's body anywhere, right? It almost seemed like they were going to and changed their mind. anyway. I liked both the book and the movie, but agree with you that the book should be read first. However, I was so devastated by "The Road" that NCFOM (book) didn't blow my mind as much, tho it was still pretty damn scary, especially the beginning when it's more from Llewelyn's pov.