American Gangster and No Country for Old Men

Yes, that’s two (2) movies discussed in one post

Richie

As if nudged by some current event, these two films both investigate the consequences of whether or not you should keep that sack of money you found. If you do like Gangster’s “honest cop” Richie Roberts and turn it in, big rewards follow. The state might even make you lead prosecutor in their most important drug case, legal experience be damned.

In Gangster word of Richie’s upstanding career move gets around. The anecdote flies ahead of him like Winged Rumor, which is a fancy Vergilian term for Rep or Cred. Everyone he meets, cops to gangsters, asks him the same question about the money. Again and again we watch this, like Ridley Scott was filming his scenes from a first draft. But it’s a deliberate ploy, a building of character through wooden repetition. That repetition, like an Homeric epithet or a mob nickname, bludgeons us into accepting his status on the playing field of mythology. “Wily” Odysseus, “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, “Turned-in-the-Sack-of-Money” Richie Roberts. The clumsiness works here, just like it does in Star Wars, by alerting us that what we are watching is not drama. It is the battling of heroes.

Notice the incredulity of everyone’s “You turned in the money? You’re crazy, I don’t believe you” response. Roberts walks among us, but he is not One of Us. Hence all that awkward lawyer crap: Roberts is no mere cop. He is lawyer-cop. The letter he gets on passing the Bar is his talisman, the structural equivalent of the raised-by-peasants hero learning he was the secret bastard of aristocratic and divine miscegenation. Like the nobility, lawyers are refined, they have professional degrees and own suits. When Richie’s divorce attorney cautions him to fuck her “like a cop, not a lawyer,” what she’s describing, via the old Hollywood canard that blue-collar lovemaking is the more passionate, is the conflict between Olympian and Titan. Also, epic heroes sleep around.

No Country

I won’t drop a spoiler on No Country For Old Men, but I think it’s safe to mention Josh Brolin’s Llewellyn Moss took Option B with regards the briefcase. And for that he was pursued across the landscape by the relentless Furies.

Tommy Lee Jones’s sheriff presence may lull us into watching this movie as a procedural, but it isn’t. It’s Texas gothic, and by that I mean it’s supernatural. There is none of the plot explication of a good cop movie, no discovery of how Anton Chigurh keeps fucking finding Llewellyn. The closest we ever get is an exchange with Woody Harrelson:
“How did you find me?”
“It was easy.”
That might be a paraphrase—the Coens are particular with their dialogue—but I know I’m not leaving information out. These characters can smell guilt. Chigurh’s transponder is tuned to Poe’s tell-tale heart. There’s nowhere to hide in Texas. I didn’t know we were big fans of hard truths about guilt and fate, but this film is tragedy straight out of the House of Atreus. And it got to me.

Here’s me with popcorn waiting for American Gangster to begin. See that Cherry Coke in the armrest? That’s a medium.

American Gangster

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