"It seems to me that the most important of all the rules is to please, and that if a play has achieved this goal, it has followed the right path." Molière
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Mexican stand-offs gone wrong, suitcases of abandoned drug money, a bad-ass killer on the trail of a likeable desperado, a smooth-talking bounty hunter on the trail of the bad-ass killer, and a policeman who talks a lot about a lot of stuff a lot of the time – for ages.
It fails to deliver on a set-up that is driven down our throats with each gruesome murder. An unstoppable killer closes in on his prey, an intuitive and very capable Vietnam veteran, whilst a wise old philosophizing policeman tracks both of them. That's the set-up, and we sit back in expectation as these three hurtle towards each other and… well… nothing really.
So we're left with a psychotic Spaniard sporting a Beatles haircut on a big face, lugging what looks like a scuba diving tank around a desert, laying waste to all and sundry in his pursuit of a Vietnam vet who doesn't quite understand the concept of running away (1974 anyone?), all whilst being investigated – and I use the word in its loosest sense - by a walking drawling scrotum in a sheriff's uniform prone to a soliloquy or ten.
There were some scenes that were just, well, I don't know what they were or where they were going or why they even existed, I suspect simply to give McCarthy's prose a voice, and Woody Harrelson's character didn't really bring anything to the equation other than another corpse for el big face to scuba to death. As I sat there watching this film whimper to its conclusion, the bone marrow in my legs started itching, and when Tommy Lee Jones started getting all Hamlet on the motherfucker, I could actually feel my teeth growing. Jesus. I couldn't get to the pub fast enough.
I understand why they did it. I think. McCarthy’s book is all about how things aren’t what they used to be and how things don’t always turn out how they are supposed to and the unpredictability of life (a bit like football, really) and so we are accordingly gifted a lesson in keeping with that theme: a chase thriller that ends, wait for it.... not.... how.... it's.... supposed to. Brilliant. They subverted the genre to establish the narrative theme of a piece of literature and shock us all with the revelation… BIG FUCKING DRUM ROLL… that real life doesn’t always turn out the way you want or expect it to. Gee, thanks dad, but can you lay off with the life lessons I’m trying to watch an imitation of real life through the medium of drama. What? This is the film? Oh. How silly of me.
Drama isn’t just something that exists in this world because people write it, it’s pretty much the reverse that’s true, and dramatists exist in this world because human beings have an inherent need for drama. Writers exist to feed that need, and their role is, or should be, defined by those needs. Writers who fail to take an interest in the public perception of drama (what the audience wants/expects) can end up all too easily misunderstood or inaccessible. A writer who finds, to his surprise and frustration, that his audience fails to connect with him is a world apart from a writer who is inaccessible by design. The former is a learning curve, the latter is unforgivable.
Which raises the question: does a work of art exist if it has been created without regard for the spectator? I accept that's debatable with regards to many forms of art, but I feel it's wholly indefensible with regards to drama. A work of drama exists for an audience.
My problem with No Country For Old Men is that they ignored a fundamental principle of drama to preach reality to thousands of people who paid hard-earned money to leave the real world behind for a few hours.