Beat Breakdown #4: No Country for Old Men



In the grand tradition of Coen Brothers films, the story revolves around an average Joe whose avarice overpowers his common sense. Upon inexplicably stumbling across an inordinate amount of money that doesn’t belong to him, our protagonist, Llewelyn Moss, is beset by Mexican cartels, the inescapable reach of the law, and the relentless, unstoppable pursuit of a cold-blooded hitman. 


(Pages 5-12) While hunting in the desolate Texan desert, Llewelyn Moss discovers the aftermath of a brutal shootout between members of a Mexican drug ring. A payoff, Moss presumes, went spectacularly awry, leading to a collection of dead bodies and an unattended leather case containing two million dollars. Naturally, Moss snatches the goods, setting the stage for a brutal tale of retaliation and greed. 


(Pages 50-55) The first major plot point actually occurs fairly late in the script. Moss, in one of his rare moments of forethought, flees his home with the money in tow. He rents a motel room in the next county over and hides the case in the air vent in his room. Unbeknownst to Moss, the case is outfitted with a tracking device which leads the hitman, Anton Chigurh, right to his doorstep. After slaughtering some Mexicans in pursuit of the case, Chigurh attempts to confront Moss directly, only to find that he has escaped with the money during the confusion.


(Pages 60-65) A gunfight between Moss and Chigurh serves as the film’s midpoint. What we have here is a battle of wills; Moss perhaps represents the futility of defying fate, or maybe blind greed and the inevitable consequences thereof, while Chigurh represents the physical manifestation of death, coming irrevocably to execute cosmic retribution. Moss wounds Chigurh and escapes, succeeding only in buying himself a little more time. Both Moss and the audience know, however, that nothing can really stop the predator Chigurh from eventually catching his pre


(Pages 80-84) The second plot point wraps up a sup-plot involving another hired operative, Carson Wells, who claimed that he could offer Moss and his wife protection from Chigurh and the cartel in exchange for the money. Moss, apparently determined to continue making phenomenally poor decisions, declines Wells’s offer. Though Wells insisted that he was the only one who could be relied upon to offer protection from Chigurh, he’s easily eliminated in his own hotel room. During a brief telephone exchange between Moss and Chigurh, the assassin promises not to harm Moss’s wife as long as the money is returned promptly. 


(Pages 95-100) The climax of this particular film is an interesting one, as we end up in a sort of bait-and-switch situation. The protagonist, whom we’ve mostly followed since the beginning, is killed-off without ceremony. Llewelyn Moss is thus revealed to be what is generally referred to as a “false” or “decoy” protagonist, meaning that the emotional core of the film also changes, in addition to the main thrust of the message. It’s revealed that the true protagonist is the beleaguered Sheriff Bell, whose town has been shocked by the violence wrought by Moss and his ill-gotten wealth. 


(Pages 112-118) After the subversive reveal of the true protagonist, we’re left with Sheriff Bell as he tries to make sense of the slaughter that he’s been witness to. In his own gruff, unsentimental way, Bell seems to find some strange solace in the fact of the inherently uncontrollable and senseless savagery that seems to saturate the starkly binary, law-and-order world in which he lives.


Netflix Movie of the Week #10: Black Snake Moan


Well, it’s finally Friday, which means that it’s time, once again, to delve into that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the Netflix online selection. This week, we’ll take a look at a film that I’d always heard good things about, but had never actually seen until recently. Black Snake Moan, directed by Craig Brewer, is arguably the best example of his work to date. Highly sexualized and intentionally provocative at times, Black Snake Moan explores the relationship between two individuals from opposite worlds as they share their suffering after being thrust together by a twist of fate.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci and including a cameo appearance by Justin Timberlake, the film follows the story of deeply religious Lazarus (Jackson) who finds sex addict Rae (Ricci) badly beaten and near death on the side of the road. Believing that it is his moral obligation to cure Rae of her sinful ways, Lazarus chains her to his radiator until she can prove to him that she has overcome her promiscuousness. What follows is a descent into the pent-up and suppressed suffering of both individuals and ultimately, they deliverance that they didn’t know they needed.

Jackson shines as the outwardly friendly but internally shaken Lazarus and performances can generally be commended all around. The surprising thing about Black Snake Moan, however, is that while the sexualization becomes almost fetishistic to a degree, it’s always done tastefully and adds weight to the story, rather than being a crass gimmick. Likewise, there is a gratifying amount of thematic subtlety to be found beneath the intentionally superficial sex. The soundtrack, likewise, is phenomenal, and plays heavily off of the bluesy influence of the deep south. If you’re looking for something a little different, yet still supremely satisfying, you could certainly do worse than Black Snake Moan.

Rating: 4 out of 5