“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
The Popcorn Interlude: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Cormac McCarthy, a quality crime yarn and the Coen Brothers: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN should have been a perfect storm. It’s a marvellous movie, there’s no doubt about that, and that it’s not entirely wonderful is due in part to the curse of high expectations, and at least two, and possibly three, rather convoluted leaps of logic the filmmakers ask the audience to make – one is plenty, two is pushing it and three is just sloppy, which is not an adjective often used in the same paragraph as ‘the Coen Brothers’. In saying that, it will certainly reward a second viewing and it will deservedly be in most critics’ Top Ten come the end of the year. But here’s another way of getting at what we were trying to say here: the fact that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a crime story will in no way influence the way its critics and its audience view the film. It will be judged on its production values, its direction and acting, how plausible and engaging its story is, how well it achieves its implicit ambition. If its narrative genre is mentioned at all it will be in a positive context, given the Coens’ superb understanding and execution of what makes crime a global obsession; the Coen Brothers are among the best in the business because they work in the crime genre, not despite it. The same could be said for Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, W.R. Burnett. It helps, of course, that the Coens work in what is still a relatively new form, one that doesn’t concern itself with high or low art but good or bad movies. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler: “There’s only two kinds of writing, good and bad.” The Coens understand that there’s only two kinds of stories, essential or not. It’s still too early to decide if NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is essential in the way FARGO and THE BIG LEBOWSKI are, but for the moment it is almost a perfect storm.- Declan Burke