No Country for Old Men
There has been a lot of discussion about the Cohen brother's new film, 'No Country for Old Men'. It has been a critical success with praise for the terrific performances and the remarkable photography. It is a film that exudes confidence in every way. The film's criticism has been mostly targeted at the character development and the subversive ending which I will not disclose here.
What struck me about 'No Country for Old Men' was the minimalist soundtrack. It is one of the quietest films I've seen in years. I screened some of Kieslowski's 'Blue', 'White' and 'Red' for my students a few weeks ago and asked them to pay attention to his minimal use of sound. Sound became punctuation and it's silence was just as important as it's amplitude. 'No Country for Old Men' uses this method with the same great effect. After the film was over I was convinced that there was no musical score at all. My theory has always been that if you don't notice the music then it was doing it's job. Great film music doesn't draw attention to itself, it enters your psyche through the back door and draws on your emotions. Curious, I looked it up today and came across the blog of the music composer, Carter Burwell. I'll link to it so you can read what he said about his work on the film. On the right side of his site he has a little jukebox so you can hear some of his work on the film.
Brilliant. In a thriller where you want to create tension, most filmmakers lean heavily on the film's score to provide the emotional cues. Here, the Cohen brothers create the tension through story, editing and performance. It is intense to say the least.
I truly admire filmmakers that take chances and push themselves, and the form, to new levels. The Cohen brothers are a great example of the modern maverick, marching to the beat of their own drum. Their films are unique and quirky and they have a wonderfully subversive sense of humour. They've also shown such confidence in making this film that it almost challenges the critic to defy it. The minimalist soundtrack is a perfect example of filmmakers who feel at home with their material. It is, after all, a companion to some of the Cohen brothers best films - 'Fargo' and 'Blood Simple'. They seem to have a comfort with this kind of story but have taken it a step forward. I'd be very surprised if they don't take home some hardware this winter...