Monday, March 31, 2008

Unsatisfying Resolutions

I saw two movies over the weekend: Atonement and No Country for Old Men. These two films have both been critically acclaimed and both have been nominated for Oscars. Both are adaptations from novels. The endings to both movies, however, were unsatisfying.

**Warning: Spoiler Alert**

No Country for Old Men is a graphic (i.e. bloody) film that begins when a man named Llewelyn comes upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. With dead bodies everywhere, he eventually finds a satchel full of cash and decides to keep it for himself. He eventually gets caught up between the parties who want the cash -- drug dealers, drug buyers, hit men and bounty hunters. It's not going to end well for Llewelyn.

Since this film has been heavily praised, I must be missing something because although it is well made, I didn't find anything redeeming about the film. For one thing, I had a hard time trying to sympathize with any of the characters (except for maybe Llewelyn's wife, who suffers the consequences of her husband's actions). For instance, the hitman named Churghi is on Llewelyn's trail and he kills anybody who gets in his way. He rationalizes his killings with philosophical reasoning. Of course, since he's a psychopath, none of it makes any sense. The sheriff, meanwhile, seem to be a defeated man -- he seems to accept the fact that he can't make a difference in society as suggested by his Uncle Ellis. Then there's Llewelyn, who refuses to give up the cash even though he has put his family at great risk.

As a side note, it's interesting to think that advocates of the legalization of drugs might say these characters wouldn't have to go through all this trouble if drugs were legal. They would say that with legalization, there wouldn't be any drug lords. But then again, this movie (and other films involving the drug trade like Traffic, Blow, American Gangster and Scarface) would never have been made, right? ;)

The second film I saw was Atonement. In this movie are three main characters -- Briony, Cecilia (Briony's sister) and Robbie (Cecilia's love-interest). The complication begins when Briony accuses Robbie of raping Lola, their cousin. Robbie ends up spending 3 years in jail and is given a choice to stay in prison or enlisting in the British military. He joins the military and is sent of to war in France during WWII. Both Robbie and Cecilia eventually die as a result of the war: he from injuries in France while she indirectly from the bombings of London.

Briony goes on to have a succesful career as a novelist. In her later years, she is being interviewed and she finally admits that she realized later that it was not Robbie who raped Lola. Since she ruined their lives, she decides that she must make an atonement. How? By writing a semi-autobiographical novel where she gives the characters of Robbie and Cecilia a happy ending (i.e. Robbie and Cecilia end up together), of course. Now the question for me is: is that really an atonement? Writing a novel and giving the characters a happy ending? I figure that if you've ruined two people's lives, the least you should do is fess up to the authorities earlier in life, not when you're already ready to retire and suffering from a degenerative brain disease. Or at least, fess up to the families of Cecilia and Robbie so Robbie can at least have his name cleared. Then again, I guess the movie would sound weird if they called it Not An Atonement. ;)

Disclaimer: I realize I'm going against the tide by not heaping praise on these two films, but my review is just an opinion. If you disagree with me, feel free to do so, but don't go 300 on me like some commenters. ;)

Technorati tags: Atonement, No Country For Old Men


TruBlue said...

Not sure myself what's so good about "No Country". You've got Two Million in cash and you're running around town! Go straight to Mexico and the Virgin Islands!

There were too many "war" scenes that should have been edited in the "Atonement" and total waste!
I think Briony went to the authorities and confessed for her misdeeds althought it wasn't shown.
Overall for me, it was good.

Rogue Trader, Michael Clayton, A Mighty Heart, and The Kite Runner were all pretty good. You might want to watch these this weekend.

haze said...

"No Country..." was out in France but didn't have the time to watch it, sayang! Instead we ended up watching a French film entitled "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis" it depicts about the people living in the North of France (their accent, attitude, food etc.) it was just HILARIOUS ! As for Atonement, I think the film is not out yet and I am not so sure if this will be diffused, you know English films are limited in France!

Toe said...

Hi Wil! Gee.... two profound movies in one weekend! :) I don't usually watch Oscar-nominated movies because they're too deep for me... pang-Austin Powers lang ako... haha! :) But you made good reviews and have good insights on these two... and funny too... like how could you sympathize nga with a psychopath? :)

And then duh... how could you atone nga for your sins... especially if the people involved have died... by writing a novel and making heaps of money out of it? :)

Wil said...

TB, well, he did end up in Mexico. ehhehe.

Agree with you with the war scenes. I guess the director just wanted to show how chaotic it was on the beach.

if she fessed up to the authorities, then I missed it. I'm almost sure she didn't though.

Thanks for the recommendations. :D

Haze, France should have Atonement since some of the scenes take place in France and they even have some French dialogue. :D

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.... that film hasn't reached here yet. hehe

Toe, actually, it's my roommate who's more of a movie buff. I actually prefer comedy to drama, but my roommate is the one who rents the movies kaya I'll just watch it. heheh

It was indeed a strange way of atonement. I'm sure Robbie and Cecilia are glad she atoned by writing about them in a novel. hehehe

D@phn3 L@ur@ said...

I purposefully skipped your review of No country for old men since I have yet to watch it.

Atonement I guess one needs to read the book to get a better sense of Briony's actions or non actions. It was ok but left me with alot of unanswered questions which might be indicated in the book. I did find some 'answers' from reading other reviews about the film since I have no intention of reading the book. :)

TruBlue said...

Before Robbie and Cecilia died of separate incidents, there was a scene near the end wherein Briony paid them a surprise visit in their apartment. This is where she actually made her "atonement" and asked for forgiveness. This is where Robbie also told Briony to make a signed confession and to tell her parents and the "solicitor" about the whole truth. That's my recollection and maybe some viewed it otherwise. Cheers!

bill bilig said...

No comment on these two movies because I still have to watch them hehe :-) I second Trublue though that The Kite Runner is pretty good. I'm glad I decided to watch it; I wouldn't mind watching it a second (third, etc) time too. I hope Pinoy directors/producers will make movies like that.

bw said...

I haven't watched Atonement but I agree with you on No Country for Old Men - it wasn't that spectacular. Again, if History of Violence was nominated for best picture a couple of years ago, No Country could be in the list too :)

D@phn3 L@ur@ said...

To trublue if I may interject. The way I see it that scene in Cecilia's apartment where they confronted Briony and told her to make things right never happened. An elder Briony told the interviewer that she never got the chance to atone for her past sin because her sister and Robbie both died in separate incidents without ever seeing each other again. She only made it a happy ending for her book and that was Briony's way of atoning for her terrible mistake years ago. Really tragic how she ruined the lives of her loved ones.

Wil said...

Daphne, I don't know if I'll read the book either although books tend to be better than the movie version and thus provide more clarity to Briony's actions/inactions.

TB, I agree with Daphne's comments. Also, check here for wikipedia's entry on the novel.

Bill, oh, I'm sure Pinoys have made movies like The Kite Runner. They probably just haven't gotten the exposure.

bw, I've heard of History of Violence but I haven't seen it. I might watch it someday... if my roommate rents it, that is. hehe

Thanks, Daphne. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Wil,

I found your site through Haze's and realized you probably don't live too far from me.

I haven't seen Atonement but I agree with you about No Country - it was a well-made film but I don't think I would nomimate it for 'best film' (not that I've seen a lot of movies this past year so I really don't have a point of reference).

I thought the actors did a fine job but there weren't any roles that called for great stretches in acting.

bingskee said...

reviews do not mean praise. so it's ok if you do not have a positive one on these films. you are just being honest.

TruBlue said...

Thanks Dapnh3. Now, I'm beggining to regret the goodness of the film. It deceived me, hehe. Briony needs to atone for everything......agree that "books" are always "different" from films.

Tani said...

I haVEN't seen both films, although I meant to. There was a lot of hype after all. Even with the "spoiler alert", I read through your review. I guess a lot of people enjoy watching films where the characters are stupid and wouldn't have done those things in real life. Flawed characters get more raves from critics. :)

Wil said...

Hi, Joanne. Well, it's nice to see a fellow BAy Area blogger. :D

Maybe there just weren't that many good films that year. hehe

THanks for visiting. :)

Bingskee, true. I just figured I'd put the disclaimer anyway since some people may take my reviews too seriously. hehehe

TB, Briony definitely needs to do something more fitting to atone for her sin.

Tani, that may be true. Although many people may be tempted to keep the $2 million if they found it. hehe

ipanema said...

ah, i feel the same way. watched it in Manila and it was like...huh? :(

perhaps i just had great expectations.

Anonymous said...

I read Atonement a few years ago. Honestly, I don't remember much of it now. I got so bored by the middle of the book. It was the part about Robbie and the war. I don't have much interest with that kind of stuff. :) But I painstakingly tried to finish the book. I might rent the movie this weekend. Thanks for the review. And of course, no, a review doesn't only mean that you have to praise a movie. It should be about what you think of it. :)

tin-tin said...

my sister invited me to watch atonement. i was to decline when she texted again that only ayala cebu has it. hehehe. buti na lang ;p

Gypsy said...

I am with you on "Atonement", I dont know what the fuss is all about. But its not the first time that I actually find those that are supposedly "critically acclaimed" quite disappointing...

Wil said...

ipanema, probably b/c the movies have been hyped so much and were nominated for Oscars.

niceheart, hahaha. Boring ba talaga yung libro? Makes me not want to read the book now. Well, not that I was going to. hehe

Tin, hey, so I guess this post tells you what you would've seen. hehe. sa cebu ka pala. Akala ko sa Manila ka.

Gypsy, same here. I guess critics and audiences aren't always on the same wavelength.