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Sunday, March 20, 2011

No Country for Old Men

I had read No Country for Old Men in Spanish a couple of years ago and although I liked it very much I found the story to be unconvincing in many places. I read it again this morning in one sitting, this time in English after watching the movie last week. The book and the movie are both brilliant but I was left with the same problems in the story line. Had I been asked to advise the Coen brothers I would have told them to end the movie with the scene when Chirugh returns the money to whomever the fuck he was working for (a scene left out of the film).  

Some of the major events that compelled the plot just didn’t make much sense. First of all, there is just no way in hell that the protagonist would have returned to the scene of the drug deal massacre just to give a man—probably dead by now—a drink of water. And why, when he kept getting found in hotels, did he keep staying in hotels? Was he afraid to camp out for a bit? If the character had a lick of sense at all this detail was left out of the book and the movie. He made one mistake after another until he ran out of mistakes.

I think that McCarthy is a terrific writer and his conversations in this short book prove this over and over. I don’t think it would kill him to use a bit more punctuation but that’s just how he wants to write so what can we do? I suppose his style works but sometimes he sacrifices clarity for style. The main purpose of grammar and punctuation is clarity.

I think that one of the things that I like best about the book is the idea of someone having to disappear. It’s a fun thing to consider, at least for me. I remember ten years ago, maybe more, a guy who worked for an armored car company made off with one of the trucks and something like $20 million in cash. He got away clean, at least at first. Months later, pretty much after the police had given up, he was captured by Wells Fargo agents who were tracking him for the company he had worked for. The guy had put a gun on his partner and tied him up. He transferred the cash to a van which he drove from Florida to (I believe it was) South Carolina. He ditched most of the cash in a self-storage unit, drove to the border, and crossed into Mexico.

The problem was it was a one man job and he had no way to access the money other than return to the States and get it himself. I don’t think he liked it in Mexico much because he shouldn’t have even needed money so soon after the robbery. Had he stayed away a bit longer he probably could have seriously reduced his chances of capture upon returning for more money. I doubt that the people whose money he took would give up on him, not after stealing that much, but after a while their passion for the crime would diminish.  Anyway, he made out better than the character in No Country for Old Men.

I’ve dabbled enough in crime fiction and movies to know that an important thing is to stay disappeared directly after the crime. The last thing you want to do is exactly what Lewellyn did in the book which was to drive back to the scene of the crime. How stupid would you have to be to leave your vehicle near the scene? It’s easy to track the owner of a vehicle and it’s even easier to see it out in the middle of the desert. I just think that McCarthy could have found a better plot device for Lewellyn getting found out by the thugs than his own stupidity.  I suppose I understand the author’s motivations, I just don’t agree with them.

So in review, if you are being pursued by pitiless psychopaths, don’t leave behind anything that leads directly back to you—like your truck , you idiot.  And you definitely want to stay away from hotels if you are on the run. Most of them these days require identification and perhaps a credit card. You may as well ask to sleep in the city jail.

Lewellyn took over $2 million from the drug dealers which can buy you a lot of options. Of course, you can’t travel by air unless you want your name showing up, ditto with renting a car or using any vehicle remotely traceable back to you.  In No Country for Old Men he didn’t plan on taking the money, he just happened on it by chance. This means he had no time to make a plan and little time to dream one up as events occurred.  He should have stayed with his wife as there wasn’t much advantage in splitting up and possibly double the risk.

Keeping the money safe should also be a big part of your plan.  In this story he just walked around with it like it was a pet. It would be hard to spend that much cash in $100 bills.  I’m certainly no expert on how to launder money but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to walk around with that much cash on your person. I think burying it somewhere seems like an easy and safe way to hide it—at least for the short term.

You can buy a used car without identification off the internet or a newspaper. Traveling by car seems rather risky as most people have most of their run-ins with the police because of traffic related issues. For the short term you could probably get away with using a car. Crossing the border isn’t too much of a problem as there aren’t many people on the Mexican side trying to keep Americans out. Where you go from there is another issue.  You’ll probably need a passport at some point, the sooner the better. Instead of trying to get a fake passport it’s probably easier and safer to get a real passport in someone else’s name with your picture.  With a lot of money to spend it’s very possible.

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