March is a five star month for cinema with the release of Oscar favourites No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Arthur Christopher saw both and recommends that we believe the hype.

There Will Be Blood

Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t come out of hiding much these days, but when he does it’s usually worth paying attention.

This time it took repeated begging from esteemed director Paul Thomas Anderson to coax him out of semi-retirement to play Daniel Plainview, an self professed “oil man”, who finds oil beneath a humble California town and sets about making it his. Standing in his way is a self-righteous preacher, Eli (Paul Dano), who suspects Plainview of exploiting his people and tries himself to broker the deal.

Plainview, a spiritually aloof and corrupted man, in turn despises the preacher’s abuse of power. The film is a nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece, using an old story to indict a modern America caught between capitalist greed and religious hypocrisy. Day-Lewis, who will win the Oscar for this if there is any justice in the world, takes it from the brilliant into the sublime.

No Country For Old Men

The Coen Brothers had some work to do to repair their reputation after the below-par The Ladykillers and the insipid Intolerable Cruelty.

No Country For Old Men, adapted from the novel by American gloom and doom author Cormack McCarthy, has reaffirmed their genius. When Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across the scene of a drug bust strewn with dead bodies and one just barely alive, he takes the money and runs, but his conscience forces him back to the site that night. In doing so he becomes the hunted to Javier Bardem’s helmet-haired psychotic hunter Anton Chigurh, who ruthlessly extinguishes all before him in search of the stolen cash.

The landscape is bleak and unforgiving; life is cheap and death unfair, but if it is oppressively dark at times it is also very funny, the Coens’ returning to their driest and best. In short, it’s everything Fargo was, just better.

 

No Country For Old Men Pop Quiz

Is the film a western? Or if not, what genre does it fit into?

Joel Coen: Some people have characterised it as a Western. In our minds when we read it, it was closer to a crime story. The book was fascinating to us. It was unusual for Cormac McCarthy because it was almost a pulp novel, but it took the genre and did some very unexpected things with it. The three main male characters in the book were all in separate movies. They circle each other but they really never meet. That was interesting to us.

What is it like working with a brother?

Ethan Coen: We work with many people on a movie; it’s a collaborative process. Between the two of us, between us and the director of photography, between us and the actors; everything is a discussion. We don’t find our discussion so remarkable.

What is it like working with two directors?

Josh Brolin: It is kind of strange I suppose: one guy with two heads, it’s just an understanding that allows them to do what they do. It’s very subtle but they put a lot of trust in their casting so they don’t have to do a lot of work on the set and they can focus on the other aspects of filmmaking.

How do you go about choosing a role?

Javier Bardem: I don’t think there is a director in the world, I don’t care how good he is, who can fix a bad story. If the story reaches you in a way, no matter whether it is in an intellectual or emotional way, I think it’s worth doing. And then if the character has some kind of contradictions inside and is not only one flat line from the beginning to the end, then it’s something worth playing.


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