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 #17: Tombstone

Tombstone Poster

I was scrolling through the Simply Film archives the other day when I noticed a shocking dearth of Western movies! Now, dear reader, could I simply abide such a blatant lack of cinematic diversity on my blog? I could not! So I alt + tabbed over to Netflix and scoured the online catalogue for a Western I had already seen, because it happens to be finals week here, and time is a college kid’s most valuable resource.

So, Tombstone. The story follows a retired Wyatt Earp, the grizzled gunfighter and ex-sheriff with a shadowy past, as he travels with his two brothers to the blossoming mining town of Tombstone, Arizona, where the trio hopes to settle down after claiming a stake in the local “hospitality” industry. Soon after arriving, the Earps are beset by a brutal gang of outlaws, and Wyatt finds himself once again in the role of reluctant peacekeeper to a helpless and fragile town. Naturally, tensions soon boil over, leading to the film’s signature moment; the legendary gunfight at the O.K Coral, which serves as the film’s narrative focal point. Joined by storied gambler and friend-of-the-family Doc Holiday, Wyatt and co. must hunt down the remaining outlaws, eventually coming face to face with their psychotic leader, Ringo.

Kurt Russell gives an admirable performance as Wyatt Earp, portraying him as appropriately hassled and ultimately pained by his inability to let well enough alone. Val Kilmer—who, to his credit, steals every scene he’s in—portrays a remarkably Jack Sparrow-esque Doc Holliday, and despite being afflicted with a debilitating case of tuberculosis, comes across as suave and debonair in a way that only a true Western hero can pull off. Director George P. Cosmatos also pulls his weight, and has quite the eye for the weighty action scene, also have been responsible for Rambo: First Blood – Part II as well as Cobra, both starring Sylvester Stallone. And like any Western worth its salt, cinematographer William A. Fraker makes the most of the natural, rugged splendor of the American West. The scope is appropriately epic, and the natural visual atmosphere changes seamlessly from the often claustrophobic confines of the sprawling town of Tombstone, to the relentlessly bleak and strangely desolate beauty of the plains.

Tombstone is a movie that does a lot of things right, but at the same time seems to be bound to a sort of “by-the-book” type of thinking. By that, I simply mean that it suffers a little from a lack of creativity and might not have the kind of vibrant and lively execution that the interesting and rich characters seem to deserve. It sits on the verge of being a really excellent movie, but falls just short of the mark, mostly for its slightly predicable plot and some minor pacing issues.

Despite its few flaws, Tombstone is a very fun film and is guaranteed, at the very least, to hold the interest. After my initial viewing, for instance, I had the insatiable desire to call people “pard-ner” and cheat at cards, to the immense displeasure of my friends and colleagues.

Rating: 4 out of 5