Beat Breakdown #4: No Country for Old Men

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PLOT SUMMARY

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. 

INCITING INCIDENT

(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. 

PLOT POINT ONE

(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.

MIDPOINT

(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

PLOT POINT TWO

(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. 

CRISIS AND CLIMAX

(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. 

DENOUEMENT 

(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.

Joe’s Top 5 Films of the 21st Century

These films were selected because of their cinematic significance, watchability, skill of production/direction, and strength of the cast. We’d love to hear your opinions as well!

5. The Master (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s unquestionable skill as a director shines in 2012’s The Master. From its compelling visual style, to its remarkable performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to the enigmatic yet fascinating storytelling, every moment of this film brings something new to the table. It’s most certainly the type of film that requires multiple watches: and I’ll be more than happy to do so.

4. No Country For Old Men (2007)

2007’s No Country For Old Men presents the viewer with something few have been able to achieve in cinema: true suspense. Tension is, for most of these films, the reason they’ve earned their places on this list, and no film is a better example of it than this. Arguably one of the greatest villain performances in recent cinema comes from Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Anton Chigurh, the relentless assassin who often embodies Death itself. Themes of fate, absurdity, and greed are all explored in what will surely become an American landmark in cinema.

3. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)

While all of the credit for the creation of Lord of the Rings goes deservedly to legendary fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, there’s no doubt that Peter Jackson’s film adaptation set the standard for the modern epic film. In many ways, Lord of the Rings became to mainstream audiences in the 2000’s what Star Wars did for the 1980’s: defining the hero epic for a whole generation of people, young and old. And Jackson’s unwavering faith to canon will leave even the most hardcore of Hobbits satisfied. The cast is overall excellent and Jackson’s three year struggle to adapt the classic novels resulted in smashing success, both in the box office and in cinematic quality.

2. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

Few war movies have broken new ground in terms of storytelling since the landmark Saving Private Ryan. But in 2006, Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima brought Americans a new perspective: that of the enemy. The heart wrenching tale of several Japanese soldiers and their struggles between their strict code of honor and their desire to survive the horrors of Iwo Jima and return to their homes, the exceptional acting and fantastic direction by Eastwood make this, together with its companion film Flags of Our Fathers, the must-see war movie of the modern century.

1. There Will Be Blood (2007)

What can I say about 2007’s There Will Be Blood that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? It’s little surprise that Paul Thomas Anderson makes this list twice, and that he’s achieved my utmost respect as the director of what I firmly believe to be the most fully realized film in twenty years. There Will Be Blood is one of the few films I’ve seen that I would call a masterpiece without hesitation. Daniel Day Lewis’ greatest performance of his utterly remarkable career comes as Daniel Plainview, one of the most compelling and definitively human characters in recent film. So much is told in the film’s opening sequence without dialogue that the first time we hear Plainview speak, it’s almost shocking. Every second is calculated, planned, and executed in utmost style; there are moments of directorial brilliance that still bring me something new with every watch. Truly, There Will Be Blood is a landmark in modern filmmaking, and for that, it has earned its place as my top film of this century.

Skyfall Review

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Like many others, I grew up with the James Bond franchise, and to some extent, I considered it a rite of passage to seeing my first glorious gun barrel sequence. In contrast to many other franchises though, many people have lost interest in whether or not the latest movie lives up to any preconceived notions, because if it turns out to be lackluster, you can always wait for the next one as inevitably as the fucking tides.

So Skyfall, then. Picking up where Quantum of Solace left off, director Sam Mendez takes his shot at the Bond franchise with admirable gusto, incorporating much of the tight action sequences and sprawling set pieces that the re-envisioned series has been praised for. Daniel Craig returns once again as the legendary MI6 agent, taking on the role with his laudable swagger and undeniable charm, cementing his place in the franchise as one of the most popular Bonds to date. Series veteran Judi Dench returns as M (as if the continuity wasn’t fucked up enough, considering her appearance as M in GoldenEye in 1995, eleven years before the series rebooted with Casino Royale) who delivers and commendable performance, but admittedly stops short of extraordinary and is perhaps overshadowed by Craig. The baddie this time around, disgraced former MI6 agent Raoul Silvia,  is played by Javier Bardem – winner of the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as Anton Chigurh the the Cohen Brothers classic No Country for Old Men. Bardem’s performance was the highlight of the affair, bringing to the table an engaging and complex villain.

I can’t help but feel, however, that Mendez was intentionally ripping off Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in his portrayal of Silvia as a psychotic murderer, indifferent to the consequences of his actions, in the same vein as Heath Ledger’s Joker. Even the sequence when Silvia is disguised as a police officer is eerily reminiscent of some of the more pulse pounding moments from The Dark Knight. I’m willing to write this one off as a coincidence because of Bardem’s excellent performance, but niggling doubts cannot be held off for long.

In terms of cinematography and style, Mendez brings his own unique flair to the Bond universe while still maintaining a respectable consistency and continuity with the previous films. I feel as though, if given free reign and not forced to conform to an established style, Mendez’s skill could have produced something magnificent. As it stands, Skyfall’s direction is competent yet unremarkable, a phrase which I employ with much chagrin- as I see so much potential- but is nevertheless the most accurate description I have arrived at.

On the other hand, it was refreshing to see Bond’s character receive a more personal touch through his relationship with M. In that respect, the film excelled, as It worked well within the context of Royale and Solace. Had the two previous films not already established a certain relationship between Bond and M, and elaborated on Bond’s connection to MI6 as a lone wolf susceptible to self destruction and delusion, his previous misconduct, and to a lesser extent his early life, I believe the story would have floundered and the audience would have been left with a barebones action flick with an unnecessarily well developed antagonist. Of course, simply stamping the 007 brand onto the production might have had something to do with it’s widespread success…

Now, I’ve taken serious umbrage with the franchise’s return to the old school 1960’s-1970’s roots. In a sense, I believe it betrays a large part of what the new Bond is supposed to be about, namely bureaucracy’s ongoing war with far reaching global terrorism and the implications of lone actors on a global stage in the post-Soviet era and sweet Jesus, I don’t believe that I could be any more pretentious right now. Seriously though, I felt cheated when Eve introduced herself as ‘Moneypenny’ and Bond walked into and exact replica of the MI6 offices as in the first 007 films. I was left wondering “Is this what we’re in for now? Perpetual rehashing of old ground now that the franchise has come full circle?”

The Bond franchise has been through a lot, and has shown that it can bounce back from embarrassment. I remain cautiously optimistic that it can show us something new in Bond 24 and 25, which Daniel Craig has already signed on for. If you’re a Bond fan, you’ve probably already seen it twice. If you’re not, I can still squeeze out a recommendation in light of my perceived disappointments.

Rating 3.75 out of 5

PS: Did anyone else think that Silvia would end up being the new Jaws when he unhinged his jaw in front of M in the holding cell?

PPS: I’d like to apologize to our followers for going silent for a while. The holidays are stressful for everyone, no?

PPPS: Which is your favorite Bond film and/or who played 007 the best? Leave a comment!