the wife and i went and saw the coen brother's new movie, 'no country for old men', last night. to a large degree, we both loved it. but i'll get to that.
i've seen many, but not all, of the coen brother's films. my first, as i'm sure many of yours, was 'raising arizona'... what a great movie [i'm going to skip the plot exposition and just assume you've all seen it]. all at once zany, whimsical, and just downright otherwordly, yet it's the underlying sadness of a childless woman and the consequent gravitas of the actions that such a situation can force one to take that really, for me, give the movie its individuality. or my name ain't nathan arizona.
which brings me to a point: is there another modern- day screenwriter/ screenwriting team, besides maybe quentin tarantino's first couple of scripts, that display the kind of pinpoint command of dialogue that the coen brothers do?* i mean, it must be so fun being an actor in one of their movies due to the countless fuckin' great lines that those guys provide.
take 'miller's crossing' for instance. "what's the rumpus?"... "givin' me the high hat!"... "take your flunky and dangle"... are some of my favorites, but the entire script is punctuated with great, great lines-- i mean the way 'casablanca' was. 'miller's' takes place in 1920's chicago, and if you haven't seen it, and you like gangster movies, do yourself a favor and track it down. but don't put it on in the background-- you gotta really be present to fully enjoy it [a warning: it is on the violent side]. it might, in fact, be my favorite coen brother's film.
i hesitate, only for 'the hudsucker proxy'. first of all, let's just say kudos to the fact that this film is both pg- rated and so highly enjoyable. i don't get that much for movies that i've seen for the first time as an adult. but this movie would be spoiled by foul language or scatalogical humor; it's a throwback, like 'miller's', to a different age and time. the cast is great: tim robbins, paul newman, and jennifer jason leigh [who still scares my wife, fifteen years later, from her role in 'single white female'] all play their oversized parts with the correct mixture of oxygen, and, overall, the acting throughout is superb.
the movie deals with many binary themes: naivete vs. cynical greed , trust vs. betrayal, the little guy vs. the corporate behemoth. in fact, two of the characters, who literally symbolize good and evil [though, cleverly, the traditional and cliched color assignments are inverted: the 'good' man is black, and the 'evil' man is white] eventually duel it out at the top of a clock tower, on new year's eve, with all the gears and such whirring about them, in a fight to basically save everyone's soul. i mean, that's fuckin' epic for a rated- pg movie, right? and it's about the birth of the hula hoop!
such is 'the hudsucker proxy'. it is a brilliant movie: highly stylized, witty, and just really really entertaining. it, again, alongside 'miller's crossing', is my favorite coen brother's movie.
i know what you're thinking: what about 'the big lebowski'? the simple answer is that i don't even count it. 'lebowski' is in another category entirely, the one with 'star wars' and 'goodfellas' and 'dr. strangelove' and even, yes, 'the godfather'. movies so high up in the pantheon of greats that they only deserve to be spoken of within that same company. i mean no disrespect to francis ford coppola here [or the coens, for that matter], but it's not like you talk about 'apocalypse now' and 'the rainmaker' in the same context. basically it's the same thing. there are all the coen brother's movies, and then there is 'the big lebowski'. i can't tell you how different a trajectory my life might've taken had it not been for this film. i've developed friendships centered entirely around this film. i've saved myself from boring as hell conversations and perked up parties with this film. i've had really special moments with roommates and assorted friends staying up way too late with this film. this, i'm sure, is universal among all champions of 'the big lebowski'. i would stake my living room rug on it.
unfortunately, i do not feel the same about the coen's 'o brother, where art thou?'. while it is a movie that is a part of my collection, i'd like to say that i never really got it [full disclosure: i never read 'the oddysey']. i basically love anything george clooney is a part of ['good night, and good luck' and 'michael clayton' are both excellent films] and john tuturro especially is one of my favorite character actors ["look into your heart!"] and still 'o brother' left me kinda cold, especially hot off the heels of 'the big lebowski'.
this hot and cold brings me to 'fargo' and 'no country for old men'. released eleven years apart, both movies are very similar in feel and subject matter. [again i'm going to skip plot points, but] 'fargo', obviously, takes place in the tundra of north dakota, where the locals talk funny and are simple people. 'no country' takes place in the desert of west texas, where, well, where the locals talk funny and are simple people. but to leave it there misses the point: the coens don't aim to mock these localities and the populations that inhabit them. instead these destinations and indigenous peoples are, in fact, held in the highest regard, as they offer a fantastic, benevolent, and stark counterpoint to the horrible main characters trespassing on what's left of a still- innocent american dream.
both movies are tense, gripping, and violent, eschewing ambiguity and pretense. neither movie leaves you with an exactly pleasant feeling when the credits start to roll, which is not to say that you leave unsatisfied. but the coen brothers pay their respect to the vanquished and dead by not wrapping everything up in a nice little bow for you, which i respect immensely.
go see 'no country for old men'. and see 'fargo', as well, if you haven't already. and while i'm at it, i'd like to simply thank the coen brothers for their contribution, for their integrity, and ultimately for their intelligence, and for trusting ours.
ps. i know that i had promised a l.l's.d.p. today. i hope that you can wait until tomorrow.
*although the more that i think about this, i'm not even sure that tarantino comes close. for the coens see that their dialogue fits whatever temporal patois is appropriate and at the same time they make sure that it is steeped in the necessary local color. like method dialogue, in a sense: they, for me, take it a step further. you can intuit that these words are thoroughly researched and painstakingly chosen. to me, great contemporary writers like tarantino, wes anderson, david mamet, and aaron sorkin all have their own styles and signatures and let their characters speak from that. the coens do the opposite. they figure out who the characters are, and where and when they live, first, and then choose their words accordingly, which i think is infinitely more assiduous and difficult.