The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil is wondering if No Country for Old Men is as much of a lock for Best Picture nominee status as it seems to be this weekend, with the 95% and 94% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively, and its impressive $41,000 screen average in 289 situations. O’Neil figures it may be a “testosterone rush” critics’ favorite, by which he means…what?…it’s not emotional or “musical” enough, and because some are flummoxed by the ending?
It’s not really a testosterone movie at all, Tom. Testosterone movies can be stupid or smart (The Bourne Ultimatum), but NCFOM has a refinement that sets it apart. It’s a master-class exercise is delivering an art film disguised as a chase thriller. Simians looking for hormonal-surge excitement can do much better elsewhere. It’s very rare for a film to be as calm and unhurried as this one is — that’s the key element, I think. No Country delivers high-level existential dread and Hitchcock-level suspense, but it doesn’t seem the least bit hurried or anxious about whether it’s doing it “right” or if the apes are getting twitchy during the meditative moments.
The more times I watched the finale of No Country for Old Men, the more I see something exquisite and deeply profound. Tommy Lee Jones has been a Greek chorus lawman all through it, observing rather than affecting the course of events, and the whole central theme is about longing for the old days…the days of decency and trust and old-timers doing the right or caring or considerate thing with friends and strangers alike. “The old days were better” is a romantic pipe dream, of course, but that’s the central current in this film. What has happened to this country? What is this malignant scourge as represented by Anton Chigurh?
Jones passing alone the particulars of a dream he had the night before about he and his dad being on horseback in some cold and barren area, and how he always knew his dad would doi what he could to protect and care for him. “And then I woke up.” I love, love, love that the Coens hold on Jones’ face after he says this, and then cut to Tess Harper staring at Jones across the kitchen table, and then back to Jones before cutting to black. Jesus Christ, what a dead-perfect moment that is.
In a way this finale is a kind of spiritual companion to the very last scene in the Oscar-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, particularly Scout’s final line of narration: “He would be in Jem’s room all night, and he would be there when Jem woke up in the morning.”