No Country for Old Men (2007) – A Defence

Lincoln Flynn’s recent essay argues that No Country for Old Men’s primary aim is to analyse the thematically significant perspective of Sheriff Bell, but that the film’s tonal disparity limits its artistic success:

NCFOM - a defense

I don’t agree that the shift in tone is a shortcoming. NCFOM is a faithful adaptation of McCarthy’s novel, leaving the Coens’ cinematic choices to serve as their stamp. Significantly, the medium of film carries its own baggage: we enter the film with established expectations about the role and purpose of an everyman/cowboy, a darkly charismatic villain and a competent yet comic sheriff (per Fargo).

The first half of the film does little to challenge those tropes, but the second half’s tonal shift coincides with a full-bodied attack on these archetypes. The kineticism of the film’s violence drains away (and is often kept off-screen). Bell moves from comic relief to the thematic core of the film. Moss’s heroic defiance proves … insufficient.

The tonal shift forces the audience to reconsider their expectations and reaction to the first act, and, importantly, other films using those same tropes. Muting the violence throughout might suit NCFOM’s themes better, but would limit its ability to serve as a critique of cinema.

6 thoughts on “No Country for Old Men (2007) – A Defence

  1. Your second to last paragraph… yeah, I want to copy that and recite it verbatim to anyone who thinks this movie “loses track” or “abondons its theme” or grows “boring.”

    Really, those are my thoughts exactly, summed up so articulately. Well done.

    • Thanks! I wasn’t very happy with my writing here actually, felt like the 200 word limit was more of a constraint than usual on effective communication. Glad you liked it.

      • Alex – there’s a couple of reasons. Initially I just wanted a “hook” for my blog to distinguish it from all the “I write about books, film, TV” etc blogs, but mostly it was a reaction to one of my biggest failings as a writer: I’m simply too verbose, dragging out something that should have gone for 500 words into 2000, losing the larger point in the process (and, often, never finishing the article).

        The 200 words restriction forces me to think about what I really want to say and challenge my own writing, in addition to making it much easier to update regularly. There’s definitely been a number of times I’ve wanted more words though, particularly when reviewing records or music festivals!

  2. Gotcha man, that’s actually a really cool idea. Both as an exercise for yourself, and as a blog hook. I dig it!

    Speaking of music festivals, I spent three days last month at Ultra Music Fest in Miami… dude, awesome.

    • Thanks. I may do some longer posts after my 200th blog post (which isn’t too far away)… I wish we got music festivals over here as stacked as the ones in the States!

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