Book vs. Movie: No Country For Old Men. Part 2: The Movie

Filed in Uncategorized by on March 5, 2008 0 Comments

Here’s the link to my review of the book.

Ok, so I saw it.

The Movie.

    First, the good.  The performances were stunning.  Even Tommy Lee Jones showed a bit of variation on his (in my opinion) usually uniform showing.  The cinematography was beautiful and the stark landscape was captured perfectly – almost, but not quite, personified into a character itself.   This aspect, and all of the positives of the film are heightened by the lack of music:  I could be wrong, but I don’t remember a single note of score through the entire film.  There certainly was very little.  This is a risky move, but in the case of No Country it was the right choice.  It works very, very well – and this is coming from a musician.
    The rural dialogue that bothered me a bit from the book seemed toned down, or maybe just made more believable with the visual. 
    98% of the action and dialogue from the book were preserved perfectly.

    Which may be a bad thing.  On to the negatives.

   Remember those introductions to each chapter that I talked about in my review of the book?  Well, they’re gone, and with them went much of the motivation driving Ed Tom Bell and even the point of the story itself.  Any parallels between Bell and Chigurh (much of the book’s theme) are lost as we lose much of what makes Bell himself.  I may have a cloudy memory of the book, but it seems that the conversation with the older relative toward the end was also much shortened.

    The pacing also suffers in the translation, and this may be a case of the film exposing weaknesses of the book.  The action drives along effectively for the most part, but the endgame is too long and, without the extra information directly from Bell, really pointless.  The one scene that was shaved off, which I will spare describing in favor of avoiding spoilers, was the only one I would’ve left in.  Much else that is missing can certainly stay missing; a side plot involving a woman that Moss meets is excised and this fact does little to change the pacing of the story.  Certain minor action seemed more cartoonish in the film than the book – in one scene Moss is being chased by a truck through the desert at night.  In the book, this was an exciting and realistic scene.  In the movie, I felt more than a little bit of disbelief and disappointment as there was no way in the context of the film that the truck could not catch him.

    Finally, there’s my biggest complaint with the movie: very, very little was left out.  Some of the minor details, however, about Chigurh that were skipped proved to be very detrimental to the development of this character.  In the film you have no idea why he is there, or doing what he is doing.  I feel that most people watching the film would assume that he wanted the money for himself, which is so not the case.  At the end of the day, this is a crazy character both in book and film.  The film leaves him as just crazy, in a way, while the book treats the character (again, through very minor details) as something more grandiose.  Perhaps so crazy that he’s sane?  I don’t know.  I just know that I sympathized with the character more in the book.

    So, what’s the verdict?  Well, believe it or not, I actually think the film wins.  There are some awkward moments, to be sure.  This is par for the course with the Coens, though.  Comparisons to the book set aside, the film suddenly stands on its own as stylized and exciting storytelling.  There are so many “cons” to list compared to “pros” that this conclusion, I realize, is not obvious from this article.  This is directly the result of comparing this film to the book it was derived from.  I’m not a book snob film purist.  I am very forgiving of translations across mediums – because they are different mediums and need different treatment, different pacing, and different motivations.  In fact, in the case o f this film, I thought if they added just a little bit more, it would’ve brought more depth to the picture and made the motivations make more sense. 

    So, I guess for me it’s not what’s left out in translation that makes a film-from-book bad, but what’s not added.

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Musician, writer, photographer, bookstore manager - which of these does not belong?I say none of them. I'm just an artist at heart and I approach bookselling as an art - a dying one.

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