Jonah Goldberg and Ross Douthat both weigh in on No Country for Old Men, and both indicate how impressed they were with the technical proficiency on display. There’s little denying that the Coens have a rather astonishing sense of the craft of filmmaking, but, somewhat strangely, considering the usual differences in the way Ross and I think about the movies, I came out of it far more interested in what the film had to say than in its particular bag of cinematic tricks.
And by “what the film had to say,” I’m referring to its underlying themes and ideas, its slow, sad resignation at the way that evil insinuates itself into people’s lives. But I’m also just referring to the dialog, which manages to be sparse, clean, and simple on one hand, and densely packed with meaning on the other.
I didn’t do as detailed an analysis of the dialog as I would’ve ideally liked, but it’s pretty clearly the finest, most thoughtful talk the Coens have ever produced, which is saying something for these two masters of absurdist chatter. No doubt this was aided, in part, by the source material, and by exceedingly strong performances (although they’ve never seemed to have much of a problem getting their actors to deliver quirky dialog with the rhythmic flair of a great jazz drummer). But the Coens deserve a lot for transferring that pulpy, literary quality to the screen so well, and providing so much to unpack in such a smooth, clever manner.
And if you want, you can see a part of how it was done for yourself. While writing my review, I found a copy of the script online, which provides a fascinating opportunity to examine how a few deceptively simple sentences get translated into sublime cinematic talk.