The Complete Collection: The Coen Brothers (Part 4)

After the not-so-popular films such as Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, everyone would talk of the Coen’s and mention the big hits of the past – “oh, Fargo – what a film!” or “Lebowski – great movie!” … but the smaller hits didn’t get as much attention until the Coen’s created a film with little humour – a film that expected you to take the quirky characters seriously. Enter Chigurgh – evil personifed – in what would become on the Coen’s best characters …

No Country For Old Men (2007)

Cormac McCarthy had become excpetionally well-known through his stand-out novels ‘The Road’ and ‘No Country for Old Men’. We’re back in Blood Simple territory as Josh Brolin play Llewelyn Moss in a Texas landscape. He finds money (tick box one…) and tries to escape with it. On the whole, the Coen’s threw away the rule book – no Coen cliche casting (except Stephen Root – a forgettable actor who managed to wangle some small parts in both O Brother, Where Art Thou and The Ladykillers…), most of the comedy is out – awkward chuckles perhaps as Chigurh (Javier Bardem) taunts the older man in his gas-station and the woman in the hotel.

We know there is that murderous slant in the serial-killer that is Chigurh. This murder is rooted in a money-obsession of Moss but, if we’re honest Tommy Lee Jones almost apathetic Sheriff is quite unique – not as withdrawn as Billy Bob’s Ed Crane but in no way eccentric. This is the Coen’s reaching the peak of their career. The dusty, desert landscapes alongside the characters completely invested in their surroundings – born and bred in Texas – is Coen-esque, but the sinisterness and, ultimately, horror of No Country for Old Men puts it in a league above all their previous efforts. Blood Simple always had a certain element of inexperience about it – this is what Blood Simple wanted to be: this time a better story, provided by McCarthy, better cast and bigger budget. Coen’s at their finest.

Burn After Reading (2008)

Following Oscar-success, the Coen’s turn to their own material… and turn to an A-list cast of non-Coens – in Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton and John Malkovich – alongside Coenites – in Clooney, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. I must admit, prior to watching Burn After Reading I have little faith in the Coen’s tackling inner-city comedies – see Hudsucker in New York and Intolerable Cruelty in suburban LA (opposed to the working class folk of LA in The Big Lebowski). Fact of the matter is, in Washington DC, this truly works. An incredible cast alongside a plot that folds into itself again and again – leaving you completely perplexed as to what has happened in the previous two hours. The ideas about surveillance and, in the current day and age, the ridiculous nature of ‘watching’ people and, potentially, the inevitable conclusion and mistakes about surveillance. Clooney plays a pervert who abuses the internet dating services available to him, Brad Pitt as a mere Gym-worker alongside Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins. Interestingly, Coenite JK Simmons (in Ladykillers) plays a baffled CIA reporter as he is aware of what has happened but, ultimately, has to simply draw a line under it and move on with his job.

Roger Deakin’s, long time collaborator of the Coens, was not cinematographer on this film – having been replaced by Emmnauel Lubeztki (having worked on Children of Men and Sleepy Hollow), though Carter Burwell provides the score again, to great effect. Personally, I am sure there is an element of 24 is in there somewhere … but, maybe thats just me…

A Serious Man (2009)

The latest Coen’s movie and, strangely enough, the most personal. Finally, despite the intermittent Jewish characters (Barton Fink in Barton Fink … Walter Sobchak in Lebowski…), the Jewish was by no-means a staple of the Coen’s back catalogue (unlike Woody Allen whereby a Jewish joke is a regular occurence). Set in Minnesota, where the Coen’s grew up, in 1967, placing the brothers at about the same age as the Son in the story, the references to their own lives are inevitably littered throughout the film. Is Larry Goptnik based on their Dad? Roger Deakins was back on board as cinematographer whilst, on the whole, the cast we relatively new. No Buscemi, Turturro or Clooney here – unknown actors from theatre to play roles that, I imagine, the Coen’s did want to be tampered with in any way. Carter Burwell working on the score again, this is possibly the mosy un-Coen film of them all. No murder here and the humour is more awkward-laughter opposed to the big laughs gained in Burn After Reading and Raising Arizona. You could argue that money-issues and infidelity are present – but then again, Larry Goptnik has many issues to deal with, including his job, his children and his attraction to the next-door neighbour. The film also has a Jewish parable to open the story – which I guess could be considered a dream sequence, but crucially, it is not shown in that sense. The finale of the film is grand and epic and the entire look of the film is steeped in pastel colours and, personally, the surburbia of The Man who Wasn’t There comes to mind – though it is no way a film noir.
Though nominated for Best Picture, it was not even a real contender. Mostly positive reviews – but a definite change in style. I cannot help but feel that this film may mark a change in the careers of the Coen’s…

True Grit (2010)

According to Wikipedia …  “Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old girl, undertakes a quest to avenge her father’s death at the hands of a drifter named Tom Chaney. Ross persuades an alcoholic marshal named Rooster Cogburn to join her in tracking down Chaney.”.

So far, so No Country for Old Men … but this time with Steven Spielberg to produce…

The Cast so far …
Jeff Bridges as Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn
Matt Damon as LeBouef
Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney
Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross
Barry Pepper as “Lucky” Ned Pepper
Again, no Coen-ites…
A change indeed.
Top 3 Coen Films
1. The Man Who Wasn’t There
2. Fargo
3. No Country For Old Men
Worst Coen Films
1. Intolerable Cruelty
2. The Hudsucker Proxy
3. Blood Simple

Further Reading/Podcasts available through Screen Insight

A detailed analysis of  ‘Fargo’
A detailed analysis of ‘A Serious Man’

‘The Simon and Jo Film Show’ discusses ‘The Ladykillers’
‘The Simon and Jo Film Show’ discusses ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’
‘The Simon and Jo Film Show’ discusses ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’ and ‘Burn After Reading’
‘The Simon and Jo Film Show’ discusses ‘The Big Lebowski’

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