Movie Of The Day:
No Country For Old Men (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen): As I was watching this first-rate Coen Brothers’ thriller, the penultimate scene in Fargo kept playing through my head. Frances McDormand’s small-town cop is in a squad car, escorting the last man standing in a crime spree that has left many dead, innocent and guilty alike. “And for what?,” she asks him incredulously. “For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, ya know. Don’t you know that?”
Those sentiments resonate throughout No Country For Old Men, at least among the morally upstanding few, who are left to wonder, as McDormand did, what to make of a world overcome by violence. As Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff points out, he’s the third generation in his family to watch over this formerly quiet country in Texas, and first two didn’t even carry weapons, much less have cause to use them. Suffice to say, that isn’t the case in this exceptionally bloody story, which like Fargo boils down to money—a lot of it, connected to a $2 million drug deal gone wrong, the cagey local (Josh Brolin) who stumbles on the loot, and the relentless, utterly terrifying psychopath (Javier Bardem) who’s hot on his trail. It makes for a hell of a morality play, not to mention the most gripping thriller in recent memory.
Are there any filmmakers as good as the Coens at the top of their game? There’s hardly a false note in the movie: The dialogue pops with black humor, sly Southern colloquialisms, and their usual perfect syntax; the performances from the three male leads are balanced enough to where you never get anxious to get back to one of them in particular; and their pursuit of one another involves a lot of ingenuity and surprise in the plotting. All this, plus a depth of feeling that's not always a given with cool stylists like the Coens. Just, wow. (A)
The Orphanage (dir. J.A. Bayona): The festival got off to a bracing start with this superbly crafted Spanish horror film, which doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the classic haunted house/ghost story tradition of movies like The Innocents or The Others, but executes those familiar tropes expertly. (And by familiar, I mean the creaky hardwood and rusty hinges, the focus on a governess-type—here a former orphan turned adoptive mother—looking after endangered children living and dead, and the always slightly disappointing explanation for what’s causing all this racket.) As a scare machine, it’s hard to beat: There are three or four shocks that had me bolt upright in my seat, and yet it still sustains a creepy ambience throughout. (B+)
The Man From London (dir. Béla Tarr): I now have to admit, to my shame, that I’d never seen a Béla Tarr film before this one; I passed up multiple opportunities to catch Werckmeister Harmonies and could never work up the nerve to climb the cinematic Mount Everest that is his eight-hour Sátántangó. All this despite loving Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, which by all accounts rips off Tarr’s work shamelessly. In any event, I came away from Tarr’s new film in awe of his style: Evocative black-and-white photography and a lot of long takes—sometimes holding an image in painterly tableaux, other times with the camera constantly probing, as it does in the POV shots that set up the story. Have to admit that the content didn’t do much for me, though; basically, Tarr has taken a genre premise involving robbery, murder, and ill-gotten money, and deliberated sucked all the fun out of it. I’m just not ashamed enough of loving genre films to appreciate such pointy-headed deconstruction. (B-)
Lust, Caution (dir. Ang Lee): “Too much caution and too little lust,” begins Derek Elley’s review of this film in Variety, and it really couldn’t be said any better than that. I’m a great admirer of Ang Lee, whose filmography is almost John Huston-like in its versatility, from a martial art film (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) to a Western (Ride With The Devil) to a comic-book blockbuster (Hulk) to a moving period melodramas like The Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain. The connective tissue that unites these disparate films is repression—characters who for one reason or another cannot pursue the lives they desire. There’s plenty of that in Lee’s new film—which follows a Chinese revolutionary (the superb discovery Tang Wei) who tries to snare a powerful and elusive traitor (Tony Leung) in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. But it occurred to me that Lee, an expert at repression, isn’t much of a sensualist, so when the film got to the acrobatic eroticism that earned it an NC-17, I just wasn’t feeling it, I’m afraid. Compared to the sexy spy heroics of Black Book, it’s a cold fish. (B-)
Control (dir. Anton Corbijn): Yep, that’s probably how it went down. Verity definitely isn’t the problem with this uncompromisingly bleak Ian Curtis biopic; it’s just the task of making a biopic about Curtis at all that turns out to be the film’s eventual undoing. Not that getting there isn’t exhilarating on occasion: Corbijn, who made his name as a photographer and high-profile music video director (Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” and virtually all of Depeche Mode’s videos are among his credits), does exceptional work with the performance footage and he has a nuanced grasp of Curtis’ tortured character. Fortunately, the film is leavened by a sharp sense of humor, at least in the early going, often courtesy of Craig Parkinson’s turn as Factory Records chief Tony Wilson, which is as good as Steve Coogan’s in 24 Hour Party People. But the second half sinks us deep into the depression and epilepsy that hastened Curtis’ demise; the film really has no choice but to follow him off the cliff, and I found it deadly. (B-)