'No Country for Old Men,' a violent Western epic, is deserving of its Oscar-darling status; 'Dan' exists in something less than 'Real Life'
"No Country" deserves its gold men. The Coen Brothers' uncommonly violent film won multiple Oscars because it's the sort of assured storytelling that lingers on the corneas and in dark cranial corners long after its unconventional ending. Set in West Texas in 1980, it starts with a cowboy (Josh Brolin) who discovers $2 million from a drug deal gone bad, only to find himself being hunted by a hit man (Javier Bardem) so ruthlessly relentless that he makes the Terminator seem like a cuddly Disney character. He, in turn, is pursued by a weary sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones). As "Diary of a Country Sheriff" – one of three perfunctory "making-of" featurettes – points out, Jones's character is the conscience of the story. His struggle to come to grips with a new epoch of casual violence will resonate with anyone who feels aghast every time the local evening news leads off with footage of yellow police cordon tape and body bags. Grade:
Dan in Real Life (PG-13)
Oh, that wacky, wild Dane Cook! First a stand-up comic, and now – much more disastrous – a actor. So count your blessings that Cook gets the back seat in "Dan in Real Life." Up front is the exponentially more amiable Steve Carell as a widower and advice columnist sorely in need of some advice of his own. To wit: After meeting the gorgeous Marie (Juliette Binoche), Dan discovers she's taken by his goofball brother, Mitch (Cook). Oops. Thankfully for Dan, there isn't much "Real Life" here: the whole cast of characters, including Dan's daughters, is compassionate in that very Hollywood sort of way. There are tears, there is laughter, there is a pat ending. It's less-than-skin-deep stuff. But we all go home happy. Grade: