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War Cry

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A scene from the documentary War/Dance.  

In Bee Movie, a bee voiced by Jerry Seinfeld (who conceived and co-wrote the film and whose character appears in almost every scene) doesn’t want to end up just another hardworking drone in the hive. So he heads out into the world with the “pollen jocks,” gets stuck to a tennis ball and whacked around (the animation is thrillingly three-dimensional), and falls for a florist with a cute little body and the voice of Renée Zellweger—who manages to sound both mousy and sultry. The film will be huge. It’s busy. It’s kinetic. It’s a treat for kids. But like much of Seinfeld’s work outside his TV show, it’s impersonal. It doesn’t come from anywhere interesting.

Seinfeld and Larry David are like Paul McCartney and John Lennon: They made better music together than apart. On their sitcom, Seinfeld was the neurotic but basically still center, and David’s alter ego, Jason Alexander’s socially inept, self-centered George, balanced Seinfeld’s weird passive-aggressiveness. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, David screws up every minor interaction with his argumentativeness and prodigious lack of empathy. It’s bracing in small doses, but how much can we squirm before we start to chafe? The show could use Seinfeld to take the edge off. Seinfeld certainly could: Alone, he’s remarkably edgeless.

The best movie opening this week is Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men, a faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s downbeat thriller, which I wrote about at length before its New York Film Festival opening. You can find that piece here (along with my blog, the Projectionist), but here’s the gist: It’s a near masterpiece.

The film opens with lonely Texas vistas of desert and mountains, and plaintive narration by Tommy Lee Jones as an aging sheriff who stares with incomprehension at the horrors the young’uns inflict upon one another in these godless times. The horrors to come are certainly formidable. No Country for Old Men centers on a likable trailer-park loser (Josh Brolin) who stumbles onto a scene of slaughter in the desert (Mexican drug smugglers shot to pieces along with their dogs), discovers a suitcase filled with millions of dollars, and decides—as dumb guys often do in this sort of movie—to make off with it. It isn’t long before he’s tracked by Mexican assassins and, more chillingly, a psychopathic Terminator (Javier Bardem) who reflexively murders thugs and bystanders alike with the kind of air gun used to blast the brains out of cows.

No Country for Old Men is dominated by Bardem and his Prince Valiant haircut, basso-Lurch voice, and dark, freaky stare in the extended foreplay before his killings. No one, not even Jones’s sheriff, has comparable weight, and so, in the end, cruelty, chaos, and resignation swamp everything—including the Coens’ evident delight in their crackerjack thriller set pieces and soulfully weird actors. That’s not the kind of delight you discern in McCarthy, whatever you think of him, and the film’s climactic whimper might bring you up short. I think it’s a cosmic bummer, but we can argue about that after you see the movie.

Lions for Lambs
Directed by Robert Redford. MGM/UA. R.

War/Dance
Directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. Thinkfilm. PG-13.

Darfur Now
Directed by Ted Braun. Warner Independent. PG.

Bee Movie
Directed by Simon J. Smith. Dreamworks. PG.

No Country for Old Men
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Miramax. R.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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