“No Country for Old Men” at The Smith

“No Country for Old Men” is suspenseful, bleak and haunting. Nothing about it is life-affirming, yet one can’t help but be uplifted by the mesmerizing quality of the filmmaking and the masterful performances. It will be screened at 7 p.m., March 28, 29, 31 and April 1 at the Smith Opera House, 82 Seneca St.”You can’t stop what’s coming,” mutters a grizzled old-timer towards the end of this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture. If there’s a moral to be teased out of the Coen brothers’ breathtaking crime thriller that could well be it. Faced with the march of time and the senseless vicissitudes of fate, the rugged characters of this Texan western noir keep pushing against the tide. It doesn’t help them achieve anything… except die a little sooner.Stripping back Cormac McCarthy’s elegiac western, the Coens have produced one of their finest films. It’s reminiscent of their early neo-noir “Blood Simple” and their much-lauded Oscar-winning “Fargo,” yet it has an epic sweep that puts both of these films in the shade. As it cuts between three main protagonists, it builds a mythic, sometimes operatic, picture of America’s dark soul.The ostensible hero is Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam vet who stumbles across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong while hunting antelope in Texas. Taking a valise stuffed with $2 million, Moss goes on the run. Little does he realize that the suitcase is fitted with a tracking device. Following its signal is hitman Anton Chigurh (Best Supporting Actor winner Javier Bardem) armed with a cattle stun gun and a menacingly calm demeanour. Pursuing them both is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a disillusioned policeman despairing of America’s violent tradition.Opening with Chigurh murdering a police deputy who’s taken him into custody, “No Country For Old Men” quickly establishes its offbeat credentials. “I got it under control,” the deputy boasts on the telephone before being brutally strangled by his handcuffed prisoner. Bardem, icily detached and decked out with a moptop wig, moves with the grace of a trained athlete. He is a man who lives to kill, an instrument of fate.After the struggle, the Coens focus their camera on the scuffmarks left on the linoleum floor by the deputy’s boots as he struggled. It sets the tone: vicious violence is repeatedly accompanied by bathetic black humour. No one’s laughing, though. Instead the offbeat asides add to the general sense of life’s absurdity that laces this thriller.Fate is against everyone here; nothing ever turns out as it’s supposed to, nobody ever gets quite what they wanted or deserved. Chigurh taunts his victims with a coin toss: heads or tails to decide whether they live or die. Most of the hicks he forces into choosing don’t even realize what’s at stake. There is no sense of order to the universe, just random chance. Once one accepts that, the Coens suggest, even the most everyday items seem odd: a wrapper unfolding in close up on a counter, a bottle of milk left out on a coffee table. Portents of doom are everywhere.As the cat-and-mouse chase between Moss and Chigurh unfolds — deadly shootouts followed by graphic scenes of wounds being sewn up — the Coens drag us repeatedly back to Sheriff Bell. As in the novel, he’s the conscience of the story, a man who casts a weary eye over the state of the world and is dismayed by what he sees.With a face as craggy as the film’s haunting desert landscape, Jones delivers an Oscar-worthy turn (he was nominated for his lead role in “In the Valley of Elah”). Always one step behind the action, Bell eventually resigns himself to the inevitable play of fate, violence and death that America was built on. A throwaway story about an Indian raid in 1907 hints at the dark truth of the title: America is no country for old men, pacifists or moralists. It’s a land for those immune to the pricks of conscience and willing to be pushed around by the hand of fate.The down-home Texan-flavored dialogue — some of it lifted directly from the book — is comfortingly familiar and serves as a jarring counterpoint to the onslaught of hideous violence.The story and the way the Coens tell it feel simultaneously age-old and contemporary. Though the Western landscape has been mythologized, the focus is on a new frontier: a no-man’s land where rules don’t apply and the drug trade flourishes.With its sly wit, dark intelligence and tense action sequences this film re-establishes the Coens as two of American cinema’s most talented directors. Oscar-winner for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, it’s also the best adaptation of McCarthy’s work to date and an unmissable crime movie.An intense, nihilistic thriller as well as a model of implacable storytelling, “No Country for Old Men” is rated R and has a running time of two hours, two minutes. Tickets are $5 general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens. Call 315-781-LIVE (5483) or toll-free 866-355-LIVE (5483) for details or to order tickets. Tickets may also be purchased on-line at www.TheSmith.org.The Smith Opera House is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.

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