Sunday, January 20, 2008

No Country for Old Men -- true dialogue

Most non-natives just don't get it when they try to write with a twang. Cormac McCarthy gets it. In spades.

I never knew how good he was at writing Texas dialogue until I heard Tommy Lee Jones deliver his lines in "No Country for Old Men." His scene with Barry Corbin was like a West Texas version of opera. And that's not much of a stretch. No surprise, they both were born in Texas and live here still.

Some of the bit players had to be locals. They were the chorus, if you will. But this is no horse opera.

This is one helluva movie. Powerful. The Coen brothers were faithful to McCormack's book, for the most part. Here at the home-house, we talked about the movie off and on for the better part of the next day. I was moved to re-read the book. The Mystery Woman called her actor son in Hollywood to swap theories. The movie made us think and ask questions. Likely, we'll see it again soon.

How often does anyone have such a strong reaction to a movie these days?
Not very.

Footnotes:

In the movie, Woody Harrelson plays the role of a hitman who tries to help the drug dealers recover their missing millions.

In the book, the Sheriff laments about the changing, dangerous world and observes "Of course here a while back in San Antonio they shot and killed a federal judge."

In real life, Harrelson's father was convicted of killing that Texas judge at the behest of a drug dealer and served years behind bars. He died in prison.

Art, life, imitation, and irony all rolled up as one.

1 comment:

Ken Martin said...

You're absolutely right to praise this movie as being not only a great piece of cinema but pretty faithful to the novel.

In the movie, the chorus, as you so rightly called it, is a substitute
for what in the book are short chapters in which the thoughts of the aging sheriff are put down; these short chapters alternate with longer chapters in which the action moves forward through the other characters.

Ultimately the chorus in the movie adds a lot of perspective and even
humor, whereas if the sheriff's voiceover had been used it would have dragged the movie down, voiceovers being pretty much of a crutch for directors anyhow.

I'm a huge fan of Coen brothers' films and of Cormac McCarthy's
writing. They are artists working in a different medium, but among the best of their craft.

For anyone who hasn't read McCarthy's latest novel, The Road, get after it. It'll scare hell of of you and it's grim in a way that all of his novels that I've read are grim, but well worth your time
nonetheless.

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