Dir: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Star: James Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Kelly McDonald
You never quite know what you’ll get with the Coen brothers; they’ve produced some of the most magical work in modern American cinema, but other pieces of their output are, basically, unwatchable. Which films fall into which category is a matter of personal taste. This one teeters on the edge of greatness, but finally steps back from the edge, at least pending a second viewing: the film feels terribly unfinished, as if the creators got bored with it and couldn’t be bothered to end if ‘properly’. Now, I’ve no problem with an open ending, one which invites discussion and thought; however, the sheer number of loose threads apparently left here goes beyond that. In the most obvious example, the film is all about the hunt and struggle for possession of a case containing $2m in cash, yet at the end, you don’t know who has it.
That may actually be the point, with the case just a McGuffin, with the film a character study in the different ways it affects those around the case. Hunter Llewellyn Moss (Brolin), who stumbles across it in the aftermath of a drug-deal gone very bad; amoral killer Anton Chigurgh (Barden), out to retrieve the money for its ‘rightful’ owners; Sherriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones), following the trail of bodies; and Moss’s wife (McDonald, doing a very credible Texas accent for a Glasgow lass!). All are fascinating characters, given complexity and depth thanks to a combination of a good script and fine performances; Moss, in particularly, behaves with remarkable intelligence, and you find yourself rooting for him…right up until the point at which the Coens lose interest and switch focus to Bell. The jury will remain out on this one until I get a chance to rewatch it, and decide whether it’s a work of pure genius or flawed genius.