"Atonement" & "No Country for Old Men"

Did some catching up on the movies-in-theatres front this week as well, seeing two very interesting and disquieting movies.

The first was Atonement, a film set just before and during World War II that details the disruption of life caused by a girl misunderstanding everal things at once. It is essentially a disquisition on the subject of storytelling. The purpose of storytelling is being explored, and how this purpose can be revealed or obscured by the style the storyteller uses. Sometimes, a film will be criticised with the instruction, "Show me, don't tell me." People who don't understand that criticism should be forced to watch this film. It is at once stark and lush. It is sparse and economical in its dialog and exposition, but lavish in its use of symbolism, visuals, and editing. I can see myself watching this movie at least three more times, trying to dig further into it, not because it is confusing (the story is simple and told clearly) but because it is told so well I want to be sure I'm seeing every aspect of it I'm supposed to see.

The second was No Country for Old Men, a Coen brothers film set (inexplicably and unexplainedly) in 1980. Again, there's plenty of symbolism here I just don't understand, but it's almost incidental. The chief trick the Coens pull on the viewer is that despite who the story begins and ends with, and despite who it mostly follows, the story is about the man in the middle. I have to admire Tommy Lee Jones for his work on this role. His job here was to portray a man who is starting to feel "too old", and he allows the filmmakers to show his face in such close ups and with so little concealement that he looks "too old". The film treats the landscape and other settings with the same uncompromising glare as it treats that face. Age, dirt, wear, and clutter are shown in sharp lines and colors. Really, the story here is not as pointed. There's a short voice-over at one point that explains it, but you won't remember what he said by the time the end comes. Look it up on the IMDB quotes page.

2008.02.15 at 11:00am EST