Sunday, July 13, 2014

Top 52 Things I Love About No Country for Old Men (that no one talks about)

The Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men is one of the best, most intelligent, most compelling films of recent memory. Here are a handful of things I love about the film that rarely get discussed. Please be warned: spoilers lurk within. Can’t stop what’s comin’.

I’m usually not a fan of book-ended narration (that is, only using narration at the beginning and/or end of a film), but Tommy Lee Jones’ impassive speech on the state of modern crime is flawless.

The look on Anton Chigurh’s face here, and his slow, purposeful movements. You can just tell this guy has done this before.

Chigurh’s sigh of relief after he kills the cop. Villains in movies often make their acts of killing look easy. But Chigurh’s struggle humanizes him, which makes him that much more terrifying.

The fact that the shot of Chigurh’s lacerated wrists is almost as visually brutal as the kill that caused them.

The scuff marks on the floor. Love the attention to detail.

In most any other movie, Chigurh would’ve stolen the cop car and a police uniform, in order to blend in better. Not Chigurh, he doesn’t give enough of a shit. Man is deadly, motivated and completely in control.

The way the dog looks back at Llewelyn Moss, as if to say, “Yeah, go check it out. I dare you.”

The sound of the keys jingling in the shot-up car.

I have no idea if there is any validity to Moss’ method of tracking the money in the desert, yet I believe it. The writing is so tight, the direction so concise, and the acting so confident, that you can’t not trust it.

The sound design of the film is immaculate. Example: When Moss is waiting to see if the “Last Man Standing” is still alive, the sound of the wind is quite strong. When the scene jump cuts, the wind is much quieter. A subtle shift to help cement the passage of time.

I saw Josh Brolin speak after a showing of Labor Day last year, and during the Q&A, he told a funny story about this scene. Moss wasn’t supposed to say anything other than “…Yeah,” upon discovering the money, but Brolin thought it would be appropriate to add a slight, “Mmm” noise. He asked the Coens ahead of time, knowing how much they dislike improv. They thought about it for several minutes, and asked Brolin to try the noise for them before they started filming. Brolin delivered six variations of “Mmm,” and the Coens told him he was allowed to try the fourth one on camera, but that it likely wouldn’t make it in the movie. Well, it’s in the movie, and Brolin still gets a kick out of it.

Kelly Macdonald and her perfect Texas accent.

The way Moss says “All right,” before he gets out of bed. Man’s conscience got the better of him.

I love watching film characters contemplate certain death. “How the fuck do I get out of this? Is this it?” There’s such convincing fear in Brolin’s acting here.

Just your friendly reminder that Roger Deakins is, perhaps, our finest living cinematographer.

I can’t imagine the amount of discipline it would take to film a chase scene while the sun is rising. You have about 10-15 workable minutes per morning. I’d love to know how many mornings it took them to film this. Matching the continuity would be maddening.

The way Moss cleans his pistol without even checking to see if it works first. Man knows his guns.

The genius of Gene Jones’ acting. For further reading, see Ti West’s The Sacrament. Jones is incredible in it.

My favorite line of the gas station exchange is Jones’ baffled yet polite delivery of “…Is somethin’ wrong?” Poor bastard has no idea who he’s dealing with.

The insert shot of the empty bag of nuts. Why does it work so damn well?

Time cards can easily establish setting and time, but this simple line of dialogue is infinitely more effective than stamped words on the screen: “You know what date is on this coin? 1958. It’s been traveling 22 years to get here.”

The fact that Llewelyn is always truthful with Carla Jean. Very rare for a husband to be so forthcoming in a movie like this.

The opening exchange between Ed Tom and Loretta. The writing is so efficient, you can tell they’ve been married for years.

Tommy Lee Jones’ delivery of “shotgun” in this scene: “Somebody unloaded on that thing with a Shot. Gun.”

Garret Dillahunt injecting humor wherever he can. “Then whooaaaa, differences.”

The way Chigurh studies the sound of the toilet flushing in the trailer park office. He wants to kill the woman at the front desk, but realizes killing two people would be too messy. Crazy, maybe. Smart, definitely.

Carter Burwell’s minimalist but effective score. Notable uses: Chigurh being loaded into a cop car, Moss hiding under a large truck, the infamous gas station scene, and Moss avoiding his motel in fear of being caught.

The way Chigurh practices barging into the motel room.

The introduction of Woody Harrelson’s character 55 minutes into the movie. It’s never too late to introduce a new movie character, so long as they have something to offer.

Stephen Root. Always on. Never off. One of the all-time greats.

All things considered, the patient showdown in and around the Eagle Hotel is one of the most thrilling shootouts I’ve ever seen.

The anguish on Moss’ face here. This doesn’t even look like Josh Brolin.

The ease in which Moss gets into Mexico.

This movie is so good at simply observing. Llewelyn sawing off his shotgun and building a hook out of tent poles, Ed Tom studying the lock in Moss’ trailer, Chigurh making an impromptu bomb, and later fixing his leg, and so on.

A few more words about the leg scene. The scene is two and a half minutes long, but, in less confident hands, it would be half that. Instead of cutting quickly to heighten the action, the Coens linger on each step of the process. Cleaning, numbing, bandaging – everything is given equal time. The directors prove that you don’t have to create tension through frantic cutting, but rather by simply observing the pain.

The brief scene where Ed Tom says, “You get cho ass outta here,” to the man carrying the bodies. Such great character development.

Carson taking his hat off when he finds out Moss was also in ‘Nam.

“The point being that even in the contest between man and steer, the issue is not certain.”

This look on Chigurh’s face. For a second there, I really thought Carson was going to save the day. How wrong could I be?

“You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it.”

“What am I supposed to do with mother?”
“Ehh, she’ll be all right. Ain’t nobody gonna bother her.”

This scene says everything about Anton Chigurh that we need to know. He’s just killed the man who was paying him to find the money. So, now that his employer is dead, what possible motivation could Chigurh have for continuing with his “mission”? Principle. Just as Carson said, he’s a man of principle.

Beth Grant. She’s the best.

“Just lightin’ out for the territories, huh? Brother, I’ve been there.”

As the movie progresses, it shows us less and less of the violence Chigurh inflicts. The accounting man, the chicken farmer… it’s a refreshing bit of restraint.

The fact that we don’t see our “hero” get killed is just one thing that makes No Country for Old Men such a jarring film.

The mystery of this scene, by far my favorite of the film. I discussed it in depth here, and yet I still don’t know what it all means.

The scene between Ed Tom and his uncle Ellis is quintessential Cormac McCarthy. Doesn’t get more McCarthy than that.

“I always figured when I got older… God would sort of come into my life somehow. And he didn’t.” – the best, most telling line of the entire film

The first time I saw this film in the theater, people screamed at this shot. I mean… screamed. Men and women. It was awesome.

“Look… at that fuckin’ bone.”

I’ve honestly never understood the fuss concerning the ending of this movie. It makes perfect sense to me, always has. Remember the title: No Country for Old Men. Honestly, I can’t imagine the movie ending any other way.


45 comments:

  1. That's a lot of things to love about a movie that was already an incredible masterpiece to begin with. The accents are really something, especially when you hear Javier Bardem speaking with that rather intimidating voice and Kelly Macdonald with her Southern accent. It certainly becomes very jarring when you look at some of the behind the scenes features and see Bardem speaking with a very non-threatening Spanish accent and Kelly Macdonald with her thick Scottish accent.

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  2. This is one of my favorite lists that you have made. I just watched this film two nights ago, for my brother, his friend and one of my friends hadn't seen it. The whole time I was thinking if I made a list of the things I love about this film like Alex did, I'd put so many things on the list. And what do you know you make a perfect list with so many of the little things I love about No Country for Old Men.
    There is only one thing that I interpreted differently than you on this list, and it is when you say "The way Chigurh practices barging into the motel room." I always thought he was checking his room for people (the Mexicans maybe) in his room. As if he was opening the door a second time to catch them off guard because they thought he left already. Now that I think about it, your interpretation make more sense for why would the Mexicans know it was his room.
    Anyway my favorite part of this list is your last entry, my bro his friend and my friend all had problems with the ending. I had to stand there and defend it for awhile. I am so with you, thinking that it is the perfect ending, I don't get what is so wrong with it, oh well.
    There is only one more thing I would put in this list and that how misunderstood the scene with Anton on the bridge all by himself, and sticks the gun out the window and attempts to shoot the crow but misses. The brilliance of this scene is showing that Anton Chigurh is mortal. The rest of the movie basically paints him almost (this may sound a little silly) as a supernatural manifestation of evil and violence, dishing out death with no remorse or compassion. The brilliance comes in how nobody seems to ever understand or pay attention to that scene even though it has so much to say. At least the way I interpret it. Sorry for rambling and going on for so long, I just love this movie, one of my favorites in recent years and probably ever. Great list, so many fantastic additions to it.

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    1. Hey man, ramble all you want – no bother to me! As for the barging-in scene: obviously there are many ways to interpret much of this movie, but for me, it was always pretty clear that Chigurh was giving himself a “dry run” by checking how fast the hotel door swings open, and how quickly he can flick on the light. Chigurh is way too calculated to go into a room like that without a weapon. So yeah, I always assumed that’s why he rents another room and practices first.

      I completely understand how the end of the film could be jarring for first time viewers. When I first saw it I thought, “Wait, that’s it... Oh, that’s… it.” It took me a few moments, but it clicked pretty quickly. Still, it does come abruptly.

      As for the shooting the bird scene… that’s funny, because I actually interpreted that scene differently. I always thought Chighur meant to shoot the guardrail and simply scare the bird. In that way, it kind of humanizes him, showing that he doesn’t kill innocent animals for the hell of it. He gets more satisfaction in the scare than the kill. But like I said, much about this film is up for debate. Which is partly why it’s so fascinating.

      Thanks so much for reading and offering such kind words about the post!

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  3. I too am in love with the way this film ends. I haven't read the source novel (I actually haven't read any McCarthy now that I think about it) but I can't imagine that it ended in a way that was that dissimilar from the way the film ended (tonally anyway). Leave it to the Coens to make a movie that crosses over yet is still very dark and mysterious. And speaking of dark, that sunrise scene... just damn. Beautiful, terrifying, haunting, moving - I'm with you, I can only imagine how long it took to film that.

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    1. No Country for Old Men is literally, no bullshit, the most faithful film adaptation of a novel that I've ever seen. The Coens admitted that one of them would type the screenplay, while the other held the book open in front of the typist's face. The book is partly narrated by Ed Tom, so much of that narration appears elsewhere in the film (as natural dialogue), and there's a bit about a female hitchhiker that Moss picks up that got (wisely) cut from the film, but other than that, it's pretty spot on. Oh, there is some great insight into Chigurh's psyche, but I'm not sure it would've added anything to the film itself.

      Sorry, that's my long way of saying that the end of the book is exactly like the movie, which I love.

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  4. One of my favorite shots in the film is when Llewyn Moss wakes up as I'm thinking "that shot is similar to the one of Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona. Scary-ass film at times as well as quite brutal to watch.

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    1. I love that shot too, for the same reason. Always nice when filmmakers subtly acknowledged their own films like that.

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  5. What a great breakdown if No Country. It's just an incredible movie. After seeing it alone a time or two I watched it with my wife. She hated the ending as well. For people that agree I think you hinted at why. There is so much that is unseen, so much to be interpreted. Lots of people are so conditioned to movies giving them everything cut and dry they don't like it when one doesn't.

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    1. I'll confess, the abruptness of the ending did take me by surprise the first time I saw it and left me a bit unsure what to think, but then again the whole final act took me by surprise since there was no way I could have seen it coming. Having watched it a few more times, though, I don't think there could have been a better conclusion.

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    2. Wendell, I love your final sentence. Obviously, your wife is perfectly justified in hating the end (we are, after all, allowed to hate whatever we want to.) But I do think there's a fair amount of conditioning that most people have received from movies. A lot of people thought No Country was going to be a straight crime story, but it's far more intelligent and jarring than that.

      I too was a little shocked by the abruptness of the ending, but once it settled with me, I completely "got" what those involved were going for. And hell, it's great that we're still talking about it today. The debate rages on.

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  6. Is there something wrong?
    With what?
    With anything?
    Is that what you're asking me: 'Is there something wrong with anything?'

    I love that exchange.

    My favourite line, though: "You can't stop what's coming".

    I'm going to keep my eye on these comments. I have pretty strong opinions about this adaptation (even though as a film, rather than as an adaptation, I thought it was magnificent).

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    1. Really, that whole scene is a masterclass of writing and acting. It's also a perfect example of minimalist direction. With the exception of the insert shot of the nuts (and later, the coin), there is no directorial flourish in that scene at all. The Coens let the actors act and the words sing. Brilliant, just... brilliant.

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  7. Wonderful list! No Country for Old Men is such a brilliant film. I just read the essay you wrote about what might have happened to Chigurh, and I must rewatch the film so I can keep the theories in mind! A true shame that it had to go up against There Will Be Blood, which I like just a bit better than No Country.

    For another great analysis of this film, you should listen to the Awards Daily Oscar podcast detailing the year that was 2007. It's episode 68 I think. Here's a link in case you might like to listen to it :)

    http://www.awardsdaily.com/oscarpodcast/?p=6865

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    1. Thanks Aditya! I really appreciate it :)

      2007 was such a damn fine year. TWBB is my favorite, but No Country, Diving Bell, Michael Clayton, Into the Wild, Assassination of Jesse James, In the Valley of Elah, Eastern Promises, and on and on.

      I'll make room that podcast shortly. Thanks for the link!

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    2. Here is my own brief reaction to this picture:

      http://ponderingsofapriest.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/no-country-for-old-men/

      Although I love the movie, my impression is that by leaving out some key movements of the book - the relationship between Moss and the hitchhiker - the Coen Brothers do not sufficient play with the tension McCarthy creates between what particular characters experience and the reality which the reader is afforded...

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    3. Interesting. Will give your review a read soon.

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  8. Incredible analysis. I love your blog.

    I totally agree with you about the attention to detail the Coen Brothers have (the scuff marks, etc.). They are, in fact, my favorite working filmmakers.

    "Chigurh’s sigh of relief after he kills the cop. Villains in movies often make their acts of killing look easy. But Chigurh’s struggle humanizes him, which makes him that much more terrifying."

    Chigurh is maybe the most terrifying villain in screen history. This is illustrated in the comment above. No Country for Old Men is such a realistic depiction of evil and violence. The guns/weapons in this film seem heavy, mechanical, powerful. Killing is hard on the victim and the killer, even a killer as aware and in tune with his own violent nature as Chigurh.

    One of my favorite movies ever.

    Good work.

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    1. Thanks man, I really appreciate that. You're so right about the violence in this film. Because of the struggles, it feels so real. That's always what has drawn me to Chigurh. He's not invincible, he's just a man with a mission.

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  9. Great movie! When I first watched, I was still a rather naïve teenager, but I knew that this film would stick and impress me for quite some time. As I've said before, I love the Coen brothers. However, I do not like Josh Brolin... at all! He did a fine job in No Country for Old Men, but I just hate looking at him, although I've never determined why ha.

    Nice write-up!

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    1. Thanks Tanner! I do love Brolin, but I get where you're coming from. There are certain actors who simply don't do it for me, usually because I can always see them acting which is a huge creative turn off. Really curious to see what he does in Inherent Vice.

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  10. 52! Wow! I love that story from Josh Brolin, which shows all the control that the Coens exert over their films. Even an unscripted sound requires a discussion!

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    1. Yeah man, once I got started with this one, I just couldn't stop. Might have taken it a bit too far. Ha. That story is great, isn't it? Brolin continued to say that every time he watched the movie with the Coens (at premieres and stuff) he could always hear Ethan cackle aloud when Moss let out "Mmm."

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  11. Great post, sir! One of the reasons this film is so great is because every time you watch it, you come away with something new. One thing I love about this film that no one else talks about is a line that Chigurh says during his confrontation with Carson Wells. "If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?" That line, for me anyway, is one of the creepiest lines delivered by Chigurh. And it also tells you a lot about the man (thing?) who said it.

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    1. Thanks man! I fully agree, whenever I watch this film, I find new things to love. That's a very telling line you pointed out there. Pure McCarthy. Love it.

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  12. Amazing list man! I love every single one of these as well. Whenever I read something about this film, it kills me that I couldn't give it Best Picture. There were just too many great films that year!

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    1. Thanks Josh! Ahh, same here, but 2007 was just so good! As great as No Country is, it's gotta be There Will Be Blood for me. I know you prefer Diving Bell, and how can I argue... such a great film.

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  13. I'm not a big fan of the movie, but I appreciate many things about it - direction, cinematography, acting...the parts were so well cast and everyone was so memorable, I like how you mentioned Kelly Macdonald here it's crazy how long it took for her to break out, given how she was in Trainspotting all those years ago

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    1. It really is crazy, isn't it? But thank god she stuck it out. Her work on Boardwalk Empire is sensational. She gets better and stronger every season. And I love her in No Country. So real.

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  14. Jesus, man. This was so much fun to go through. I never even know where to begin with these lists. Just yes. To all of it. But especially this: "This movie is so good at simply observing." Because I think this whole list illustrates it beautifully.

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    1. Thanks man, I really appreciate your support of these posts. I love how this movie so often just sits back and watches. Sadly, I think that's pretty rare in (most American) movies today.

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  15. Great observations! Saw No Country For Old Men recently, and liked it more on rewatch. While I find the story for a Best Picture winner lacking in surface message(I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from the film?), it does have a well-told chase story(with attention to detail as you highlighed here), a memorable villain, great acting, and oozes of Texas. Scene with Gene Jones at the gas station is my favorite, so tension-filled (and funny almost). Like you say, it is interesting and unusual, that as the movie progresses, it shows us less and less of the violence Chigurh inflicts, I'm not sure why though?

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    1. Thanks Chris! Well, to your question about showing less of Chigurh's violence, I think the Coens did that because we get it. By that point in the film, we get what Chigurh is capable of, and showing it again (and again, and again) would be unneeded. I don't need to see him kill the accountant or chicken farmer, because I get it, you know? And I love the mystery surrounding his Did He or Didn't He confrontation with Carla Jean (I've always thought he did).

      I do have a question though, something I'm curious about. (And I hope this doesn't come off as accusatory or anything like that in print. I promise, I really am just genuinely curious!) Do you personally have to take away something from a film in order to appreciate it? I suppose "take away" can be broadly defined, but I was very interested to hear you say that you don't know what you're supposed to take away from No County. For me, I seldom take anything away from films. I just hope I enjoy my time with it and am tempted to revisit it often. Again, just curious... I love hearing how people appreciate film.

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    2. Yeah, that makes sense about the lack of violence in second half.

      Well, no, I don't HAVE to take anything away from a movie, but I do like when there is something to chew over. For me the purpose of art is within that piece of work to discuss the human condition. I like ambition in art, that lets me see the world from a differet perspective, that I hadn't thought of myself. I know that sounds pretentious. Like you I am curious about us humans :)
      In the case of a film with so much praise, and especially the best picture win, I did go in expecting a point with all the violence, a point that wasn't very clear to me. I'm sure there was a reason for the author to write the story. I checked the IMDb board today, and found this interpretaton:
      "The film is about the vanity of youth, and how it fades as you get older.
      The main character thinks he can take on overwhelming odds, but the older wiser sheriff who knows better tries to protect him and fails.
      You see the longer you survive and the older you get, you begin to realize after seeing all the horrible things that there's no order to the world, no deliberating force that favors good over evil.
      There's just trouble if you go looking for it"

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    3. Gotcha, I get exactly what you mean now. And you know, I'd never thought I'd say this, but that IMDb post actually does make a lot of sense. I can totally get on board with that.

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    4. Thanks buddy. Just my opinion, of course, but that's how I've always felt about that aspect of the film.

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  16. Oh man, this is awesome. Love that blurb about Brolin's "improv" moment. In regards to the ending, it took me a little while to warm up to it, but now I can't imagine it in any other way. It really is perfect.

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    1. Thanks man, glad you dig the post. Isn't that a funny story from Brolin? I really enjoy those deep cuts of trivia about films I love.

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  17. I've read this post top to bottom 3 times now. It's nice to find a recent article discussing so many of the little details I love about this movie. I actually found this searching for the "just lightin' out for the territories" line. I've never heard that expression before and have no idea if it is a real one, but I love it. In short, every single one of these on your list I want to add "yes, exactly."

    Curious about your opinion on this scene -- For some reason, I always thought the accountant didn't get killed off-screen. I know it's a "did he or didn't he" scene, and I'm not 100% one way or the other, but I've kind of thought that MAYBE Anton didn't kill him (maybe it'd be needlessly messy to kill two people, like with the woman at the desk in the trailer park?). On the other hand, the way Anton seems so amused when he asks "Do you see me?" like he did before killing Carson is pretty... uh. What's your opinion?

    (As if I needed to add: awesome post.)

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  18. Wow Jack, thanks so much for reading and leaving such a kind comment! Now, as for the accountant, yeah, I think Chigurh offed him. Just like I think he whacked the chicken farmer and Carla Jean. BUT, I too could see it going either way. I mean, he really has nothing to gain by killing the accountant, because everyone will know that he killed the boss anyway. But when he says, "You've seen me," I've always taken that as, "Why let you go if you've seen me?"

    But again, the fact that we are debating this stuff all these years later is what, in part, makes this movie so damn good.

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  19. This is a great mystery and a social statement that will have have heads nodding. Excellent read.

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  20. Watched a couple of nights ago for the first time. I thought I'd been short changed at the end - like something was wrong with the site I had watched from. I was like what the ??? but I pondered a bit and then realized as you said - nothing could have been any better. I loved Antons different facial expressions ... such as the one when he said ATM to Wells and when that phone blasted out he never looks at the phone but kept his eyes on Wells - with that crazy gleam in them. I loved everything but right now my favorite line is "do you even know just how crazy you are? I've used this on a couple of folks since lol.

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    1. So happy you liked the movie and that you came around to the end. It's really something, that ending. Thanks so much for the comment!

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