Time: 99 Minutes Age Rating: Violence, offensive language & sex scenes Cast:
John Getz as Ray
Frances McDormand as Abby
Dan Hedaya as Julian Marty
M. Emmet Walsh as Lorren Visser
Samm-Art Williams as Meurice Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
A man (Dan Hedaya) hires detectives to find out whether or not his wife (Frances McDormand) has been cheating on him. He orders the detective (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill her off if his suspicions turn out to be true.
I knew of Blood Simple as being the first film from Joel and Ethan Coen, I liked a lot of their movies so I wanted to check it out. In all honesty I wasn’t really expecting much from it, despite hearing some positive things about it. However Blood Simple was a good film along with being a great debut movie from the pair.
Blood Simple is a moody and seedy crime thriller, and an effective neo-noir. You can actually see glimpses of what the Coen Brothers would do later on in their careers, especially with the writing style. Tonally it does lean more into their serious crime work like No Country for Old Men, despite featuring some dark humour. While this movie doesn’t have the memorable characters or amazing dialogue you’d find in the Coen Brothers’ later movies, the writing is still great, so was the dialogue. The plot is simple enough and isn’t too expository, while playing around with characters perspectives. It is one of their most suspenseful movies, with the feelings of anxiety and paranoia gradually increasing over the course of the movie, and the plot wasn’t predictable. The final act is particularly tense. There are also little bits of dark humour blended in earlier in the movie. I will say that the characters in this movie aren’t exactly great, especially when compared to the characters in the Coen’s other films. All the characters are simple with like one trait each. So although the performances are good, I didn’t really care for the characters. It does take its time getting into the movie because the pacing is quite slow despite the fact that it is 90 minutes long, but I settled into it eventually.
As I just said, the characters aren’t as memorable or impressive, at least when compared to the other characters that the Coen Brothers have written in other movies. Nonetheless, the performances are great. Frances McDormand gives an excellent performance in one of her early roles. M. Emmet Walsh is also impressive as the private investigator, who initially comes across as an unlikable goofball, but also turns menacing, and he balances both aspects of his character very well. The acting definitely makes up for the actual writing of the characters.
The direction perfectly compliments the writing, and Blood Simple was a stylish and technically impressive debut that feels assured. The budget is definitely on the lower side at around $1.5 million, and it’s not as polished as their later work but you sort of expect it. It is gorgeously shot and has some great cinematography from Barry Sonnenfeld, from the camerawork and movements to the lighting and the use of neon. The scenes of tension and violence are also excellently crafted, with the final sequence being one of the most thrilling sequences that the Coen Brothers have ever filmed. Carter Burwell’s score is also memorable and really captures the film’s essence.
The Coen Brothers have definitely made better movies than Blood Simple, but it is a very assured and solid directorial debut, and one that contains all the ingredients that made their later films so great. If you are a fan of them as writers and directors then it’s definitely worth watching, but it’s also worth watching if you are a fan of crime and noir thrillers in general.
Time: 122 Minutes Age Rating: Graphic violence Cast:
Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell
Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh
Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss
Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells
Kelly Macdonald as Carla Jean Moss Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
In rural Texas, welder and hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers the remains of several drug runners who have all killed each other in an exchange gone violently wrong. Rather than report the discovery to the police, Moss decides to simply take the two million dollars present for himself. This puts the psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), on his trail to retrieve the money. As Moss desperately attempts to keep one step ahead, the blood from this hunt begins to flow behind him with relentlessly growing intensity as Chigurh closes in. Meanwhile, the laconic Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) blithely oversees the investigation even as he struggles to face the sheer enormity of the crimes he is attempting to thwart.
The Coen Brothers are a little hit or miss for me, some of their movies I love, others I don’t like as much as everyone. Out of all of their films however, No Country for Old Men seems to stand out as one of their best, it actually may well be their best. Everything is so well crafted, from its atmosphere and tone, the fantastic performances and of course the Coen Brothers’ excellent writing and direction, all of it come together to deliver a masterpiece.
No Country for Old Men is based off the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, I haven’t read it so I don’t know how the two versions of the story compare. No Country for Old Men isn’t like some of the other Coen Brothers movies, it doesn’t have quirky characters or quite a lot of dark comedy, this is by far the darkest movie they have made. There are very small bits of comedy (mostly in some bits of dialogue) but for the most part, it is a very dark and grim plot. The film has a realistic dark tone and isn’t filled with a lot of thrills or action. You really need to understand what you’re getting into before watching this movie, it is not by any means a fast paced crime thriller. The pacing is a little slower than you’d think, making the 2 hour runtime feel a little longer than it actually is. This didn’t bother me at all, I loved how the movie took its time, and the pacing only made some of the seemingly standard scenes with not much going on more tense. Actually re-watching it recently, the pacing wasn’t that slow, but it could be for people who think that the movie is a fast paced thriller. Nonetheless, I was actually quite entertained by the movie and from start to finish I was completely invested in what was going on. It helped that the plot as a whole is actually pretty simple and straightforward but at the same time there’s a lot to dissect thematically. Without spoiling anything, some people do have issues with the way certain things end in the third act, even if they like the rest of the movie. This is mostly to do with the way that one character’s storyline is ended and what is shown (or rather, what’s not shown), as well as the somewhat abrupt last scene. The ending is divisive, even to people who like the movie overall. I can understand people finding it to end way too abruptly and being a little disappointed, underwhelmed and most of all unsatisfied with the scene it ends on, but personally it worked for me. The last scene involves a monologue that you have to sort of interpret its meaning for yourself, given all the themes in the movie, and I’ll just say that it made sense plot-wise and thematically. The whole third act goes in a different direction than most movies with this kind of genre has, and that could turn some people off. Thankfully, I’m not one of those people.
There are some really great performances here, and it helps that the characters are simple, yet well realised. Josh Brolin is also really good as Llewyn Moss, the man who finds some money and is pursed by dangerous people. It may well be one of his best performances. Tommy Lee Jones is used sparingly in this movie as Tom Bell, a sheriff hunting down Anton Chigurh but is used well, very subtle and great performance. Bell is coming to terms with overwhelming forces and changes in his life, and that story arc and development by the end of the movie is one of the most essential parts of the film (and that’s where the title of the movie is relevant). However, the performance which gets the most attention is of course from Javier Bardem, who is absolutely fantastic as Anton Chigurh, the hitman hired to go after Moss and retrieve the money. He is just so subtle and such an dangerous force to be reckoned with, he just doesn’t seem human at all. When he’s on screen, you’re not exactly sure what he’s going to do next. There is such a mystery and ambiguity to him and we don’t really know too much about him as a person, however he doesn’t feel one dimensionally evil or flat either. There is much speculation on whether he’s just a sociopathic hitman, an angel of death, Death himself, there are tons of theories on him. Whatever the case, in this movie Chigurh completely embodies evil that can’t be understood, which is why we don’t know much about him, if he’s a human being with an explanation for why he is the way he is, the characters certainly aren’t going to know about it.
The Coen Brothers’ usually direct their films really well, and No Country for Old Men is no exception. Roger Deakins does the cinematography to this movie, so its no surprise that the film looks great, it is shot with a very gritty and darkly realistic look to it and all around looks beautiful. The violence can come out of nowhere and is portrayed in a shocking way, being rather explosive and graphic. Also adding to the realistic feel is the lack of music, there’s no music played throughout the entirety of the movie (except for one sound effect used in the coin toss scene), in fact the only song you hear is over the end credits. This makes the sound effects even more present, making the atmosphere even more absorbing. Characters could be doing standard, mundane things, but you’re even more drawn to what they are doing. Speaking of which, the sound design is absolutely fantastic, it helps draw us further into the movie.
No Country for Old Men is by far my favourite movie from the Coen Brothers. With their riveting writing and fantastic direction, excellent performances from everyone and the grim and realistic tone throughout, it just really gets everything right. Its slower pacing and the direction of where they took the story made it even better, even though it may turn some people off. I really do think it’s worth checking out for yourself, it’s well deserving of all the acclaim.
Time: 133 Minutes Age Rating: Cast: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs
Willie Watson as The Kid
David Krumholtz as Frenchman in Saloon
E. E. Bell as Saloon Piano Player
Tom Proctor as Cantina Bad Man
Clancy Brown as Çurly Joe
James Franco as Cowboy
Stephen Root as Teller
Ralph Ineson as The Man in Black
Jesse Luken as Drover
Liam Neeson as Impresario
Harry Melling as Artist (Harrison)
All Gold Canyon
Tom Waits as Prospector
Sam Dillon as Young Man
The Gal Who Got Rattled
Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh
Bill Heck as Billy Knapp
Grainger Hines as Mr. Arthur
Jackamoe Buzzell as Boarder #3
Jefferson Mays as Gilbert Longabaugh
Ethan Dubin as Matt
The Mortal Remains
Tyne Daly as Lady (Mrs. Betjeman)
Brendan Gleeson as Irishman (Clarence)
Jonjo O’Neill as Englishman (Thigpen)
Saul Rubinek as Frenchman (René)
Chelcie Ross as Trapper Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West.
The Coen Brothers have done some good movies in the past but I can never tell how much I’ll like their movies. Hail Caesar wasn’t particularly liked loved a lot of people but I really liked it, whereas their beloved movies Fargo and Inside Llewyn Davis I liked but didn’t love, not to mention I didn’t like their comedy ‘classic’ Raising Arizona at all. This isn’t the first Western movie that they have done, with No Country for Old Men and True Grit showing that they are great with the genre, but it is the first anthology movie that they’ve done. It’s such a weird idea for them and I really didn’t know what to expect. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a odd mix of western stories written and directed by The Coen Brothers that range from okay to actually pretty good. I’m glad I watched it but it’s far from the filmmaking duo’s best.
Now the movie is split into 6 different chapters and it’s just impossible for me to talk about the movie on a whole without talking about them individually. Therefore, I’ll separate my review by the individual chapters. The first chapter is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It’s about Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), a cheerful outlaw and singer who comes across other outlaws and hilarity and chaos insures. So much of this chapter is cartoonish and over the top, I was entertained by it but I was expecting much more. Really the highlight of this chapter was the titular character of Buster Scruggs played by Tim Blake Nelson. He’s so over the top and full of energy that it’s fun to watch him, he’s almost like a cartoon character put into live action. While all of the chapters were directed well, this was particularly well directed and put together. Though it was fun, by the end it just comes across as a fun skit written and directed by The Coen Brothers rather than them actually making part of a movie. I’m not exactly sure why they decided to name the whole movie after this chapter, it’s way shorter than I thought it would be and was just sort of funny and that’s it. While I had fun with this chapter, it did make me nervous about the rest of the movie, and whether it would be just fun western skits for the entirety of the movie. Know that despite what I said, I actually had a lot of fun with it and it’s really good. I just wish that it was longer and had more of a purpose.
The second chapter is titled Near Algodones and stars James Franco as a cowboy who tries to perform a robbery. The best thing I can say about it indicates at least that each chapter of this movie will have a different tone and story, it’s not cartoonishly goofy as Buster Scruggs and is a little more serious, yet it has some effective dark comedy and James Franco is also good in a role that we don’t usually see him in. Again though, it feels so incredibly short, around the length of Buster Scruggs and probably even shorter. The whole movie is 2 hours and 10 minutes long yet they couldn’t seem to make each of them at least 20 minutes long. The found footage anthology movie V/H/S seemed to have longer segments. However, it’s not just that it’s short, while Buster Scruggs can get by with it being a goofy comedic skit, Near Algodones is a more serious story, and so doesn’t have that to fall back on. While it wasn’t bad by any means, there wasn’t really anything particularly interesting or even that entertaining about this chapter, outside of some slightly humorous moments. Having watched this segment, I had even more worries about how the overall movie would be.
The third chapter is titled Meal Ticket, starring Liam Neeson as an travelling impresario with an armless and legless artist played by Harry Melling. Again, significantly different tone and type of story and it was such a weird choice of story to make in the western setting, especially in contrast to the previous two stories. However, it’s from this point that things started to look up for the overall movie. It didn’t really have any comedy whatsoever, thankfully though it is done much better than Near Algodones. It’s about as long as the Buster Scruggs segment yet we actually get to learn more about the characters and their situations. Both Neeson and Melling are also great in their roles and their subtle performances made the chapter even better. This story isn’t what you’d typically think of when it comes to western stories but it really works for this movie. It’s a lot more atmospheric and darker from the others, also with a rather bleak ending which fits right along with The Coen Brothers’ other dark endings, all around Meal Ticket was pretty decent.
The fourth chapter is titled All Gold Canyon and is about Tom Waits as a prospector who arrives in a mountain valley and decides to dig for gold, again, very different kind of story compared to the others. Something that’s immediately different is the setting. The first two segments were very desert-western based, and the third mostly took place at towns in night. The fourth chapter however takes place in a beautiful and green field, making it by far the most visually stunning of all the segments. It’s longer than the previous segments and is the easiest to watch of all the segments. It’s really just Tom Waits in the story in terms of characters, and he carries it very well. Overall one of the better chapters of the movie.
The fifth chapter is titled The Gal Who Got Rattled, which is about a woman (Zoe Kazan) and her brother (Jefferson Mays), who are traveling in a wagon train towards Oregon. Now I heard from some people how the movie falls apart from this segment as well as the 6th chapter. It doesn’t feel like a typical Coen Brothers’ movie, both in concept and in terms of writing and dialogue. It is also the longest of the 6 segments, and is more drawn out with a slower pace, which feels really jarring compared to the prior segments which moved rather fast. I will say that it does feel like the most well rounded of the stories. Most of the other chapters feel like either brief snapshots of what the stories as full complete movies could be, or random skits. The Gal Who Got Rattled on the other hand actually works as a short film on its own, with characters effectively fleshed out. You could probably even see the segment turned into a full length movie. The actors all did a great job with their performances particularly Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck and Grainger Hines. Although it’s very out of place compared to the other chapters, The Gal Who Got Rattled is at the very least one of the better segments.
The sixth chapter is titled The Mortal Remains, and is about five people who ride in a stagecoach together to Fort Morgan. It feels like such a weird story to end the movie. Admittedly while I was on board with every chapter leading up to this, when it got to this one I sort of switched off. After the 30+ minute long segment of The Gal Who Got Rattled which was on such a large scale, it felt like an alright place for the movie to stop. However it was immediately followed by 5 people just talking, and through a lot of it, I just didn’t care what was going on, at least before the halfway point. That’s not to say that there aren’t some good moments to it though, after the halfway point it does pick up quite a bit, also Jonjo O’Neil, Brendan Gleeson, Saul Rubinek, Tyne Daly and Chelcie Ross were quite good in their roles. However it still is one of the weaker of the stories.
To summarise: whether you like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs or not, there’s no arguing that it really feels like a Coen Brothers movie… well there are at least plenty of glimpses of it. A lot of the direction and writing, especially the dialogue and dark comedy feels quite a bit like The Coen Brothers’ work. I can see some of these segments working as entire full length stories. Since they titled the movie after the first chapter, I couldn’t see why they didn’t just make the whole movie about that. And if The Coen Brothers’ were committed to doing a bunch of short stories, it might’ve been better if they just made it a mini series, 6 episodes with each episode ranging from 40 minutes to an hour. They don’t really have any connections to each other whatsoever, and each of the stories don’t really seem to serve any point except to every time come to the conclusion that it was rough living in the Wild West. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of good things to this movie. It is visually stunning throughout all the segments and are directed well, and the actors do great jobs, particularly Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a bit of a mixed bag, while all the chapters are well directed and acted, much of the segments are way too short and aren’t interesting enough and as mentioned above aren’t as great as you’d hope given who worked on them. If you’re a fan of The Coen Brothers, I’d say definitely check it out, it’s on Netflix and will just be 2 hours and 10 minutes of your time. As for the rest of you, I’m not entirely sure I can recommend it. Despite my thoughts on some of the segments and the overall movie, I will praise the Coen Brothers for at least trying something different. It is one of their weakest movies though.