Much in the same way that re-imagined films shouldn’t necessarily be compared to source material, films dealing with literary appropriations can’t be properly contrasted with novels. Apples and oranges some might say. It’s true that maintaining narrative elements does tie film and novel together, but would it be fair to dissect the similarities and differences of a sculpture and a painting which attempt to represent the same figure? Probably not.
The form of each – film, novel, painting, sculpture – is unique unto itself. And no amount of posturing is going to change that. It’s more than plausible that an individual might enjoy the novel, but not the film version. And vice versa. But that doesn’t mean a book failed at its essential bookness and the film succeeded. It just means that whoever was taking it all in appreciated one medium, for this particular story, to the other. It’s taste to a certain extent. But since most Americans don’t really read at all, it’s almost a moot point.
No Country for Old Men (2007), is, yes, based upon a novel by a gentleman named Cormac McCarthy. The Coen Brothers’ are most likely tremendous fans of the man’s prose. Perhaps they should be. But that has no bearing on the outcome of the pair’s film, despite the various interviews pandering to the septuagenarian author and these Minnesotan auteurs.
What McCarthy did give the Coens’, though, is a bevy of character models which the writing and directing team should have expected to imbue with its specific quirkiness and essential weirdness. There’s some of that, but most of the movie seems to be given over to somber cowboy tones. It’s as if Shane was shot at dusk and mostly populated by scoundrels. But working in this mode again leaves the Coens open to the criticism that the pair is engaged in a career spanning twenty some odd years that comprises a series of genre rip offs.
And while No Country is obviously intended to echo the most gnarly sixties’ cowboy movies, it’s also an extension of Coens’ previous film, The Ladykillers, which was also adapted from some pleasant source material – in this instance an older film. Each effort, though, puts on display the various and sundry ways that a robbery (or recovery) involving money can go awry.
With that connection made, No Country still references earlier work by the Coens in its setting as well as purpose. The pair’s first feature, Blood Simple, was as set in Texas and involved a great deal of spilt blood. Connection made. The two films don’t look the same. But the Coens’ second film, Raising Arizona, and this 2007 effort both sport dusty yellows, browns and washed out reds. Oddly, each of these revolves around some theft – just like Miller’s Crossing and The Big Lebowski.
What’s missing over the course of No Country’s two hour run time, though, is anything approaching humor. The argument for the film being the darkest of black comedies just doesn’t work, no matter how hard one tries.