Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country for Old Men (2005), like Ethan Coen and Joel Coen's film adaptation (2007), poses two genres against one another, drawing on film noir techniques to defy what their Western materials seem to solicit. Fleeting gestures at wide-open landscape offer a teasing prospect soon abandoned; plush narrative embellishments and wide-angle shots (characteristic of the Western) are forsaken for clipped dialogue, spare descriptions, and intense close-ups, locking characters within themselves (characteristic of noir); and to intensify that effect, the film plays with an unusual series of overhead shots that immure figures in an unbreachable present that matches McCarthy's narrative configurations. As much as both the novelistic and the cinematic versions of No Country for Old Men initially might begin by encouraging a conventional Western reading, we soon find expectations sorely rebuffed. A tradition that had led to cumulative revisions of the classic Western now perversely has come to rest on sheer accident and senseless violence. The triumph of the Coens' adaptation lies in their having grasped how fully McCarthy's novel subverts Western conventions and in revealing via film noir techniques how much our desire for generic platitudes is at once misdirected and unavailing. While the Western refuses to remain dead, as the Coens' own version of True Grit (2010) reminds us, their earlier version of No Country confirms McCarthy's brilliant exposure of the skeletal twitchings in such traditional throwbacks.
Lee Clark Mitchell; Dismantling the Western: Film Noir's Defiance of Genre in No Country for Old Men. Genre 1 December 2014; 47 (3): 335–356. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-2797327
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