The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada: a modern western that’s divided between the ways of the old Wild West and the attitudes towards immigration in present America. It’s an outstanding directorial debut by Tommy Lee Jones, who also put in a fine performance: this was probably the biggest factor for his casting in No Country For Old Men. Barry Pepper’s personal journey is also powerful and believable, shame he’s never grabbed a decent leading man part. Although it’s quite slow, the story is so simple and powerful that it draws you in completely, and as the film goes on it all comes together quite nicely. The scenery on offer is magnificent, taking you from a tiny town in West Texas over the border, deserts and down to a Mexican paradise. It’s also got some of the driest humour you’ll find, with the highlight being a corpse comedy side story – morbidly dark but bizarrely funny. Simple and well executed story but the no-frills approach won’t be for everyone.
A Serious Man: the monumental breakdown of a weedy, pushover, atheist Jew as he searches for the ultimate answer, why him? The humour is the ultimate in dry / deadpan / dark / awkward and the story’s as bleak as anything else I’ve seen – so much so that handfuls of people walked out of the cinema around the 30-40 minute mark. The slow pace of the film didn’t help matters much and neither did the over-the-top ‘Jewishness’ – with lots of Yiddish vocabulary being used. The opening act didn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the film, and ended up being a distraction – whereas the finale is as open-ended as No Country. It’s shot well, remaining pretty stylish and retro throughout and the acting’s of a pretty high standard – there’s also a few tactically placed laughs to slightly lighten the mood. Overall it’s totally pessimistic, bleak, relentless & overwhelming with no likable characters and not enough funnies to balance it out. Very difficult to watch, unless you’re a diehard Coen fan or were Jewish in the 1960s.