No Country for Old Men is a true original, and that’s virtually impossible to come by these days. Smart, taut, suspenseful, and ever-so-weirdly funny, the film manages to attempt and succeed at nearly every genre under the sun. The Coen brothers have always been uniquely skilled filmmakers, but No Country for Old Men stands as their most complete work.
On the surface the story seems like the old familiar plot of the fugitive on the run with a pair of pursuers following his every move. That is the basis, but the screenplay (based upon the novel by Cormac McCarthy) delves much deeper and settles into an engaging and often disturbing character study. As the film opens, Llewelyn Moss (Brolin), is hunting game in Texas. He stumbles upon a drug-deal-gone-wrong; the scene is littered with rotting corpses and bullet-ridden trucks. Moss finds $2 million in a satchel and a stash of heroin. Moss takes off with the dough. In town to recover it is Anton Chigurh, one of the most ruthless psychopaths ever committed to film. Very few people have actually ever seen Chigurh – because he kills everyone he meets. Tracking both of them is local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones), who is well aware of Chigurh’s capabilities. Bell regards as Chigurh as a type of mythical figure and his curiosity gets the best of him.
Shot in long bouts of silence with no soundtrack to speak of, No Country for Old Men is all about atmosphere and character. The Coens’ screenplay, which is very faithful to McCarthy’s novel from what I have read, explores numerous dimensions and emotions. Normally a rollercoaster like this, which centers on suspenseful dialogue exchanges, brutal violence, and laugh-out-loud black comedy, is too much to handle. Here is works seamlessly, as the Coens do for Texans what Fargo did for Minnesotans. Themes of good vs. evil and aging are handled magnificently, all of which culminates in what is sure to be the most divisive ending of the year. If you like your conclusions to be wrapped with a bow on top, you’ve been warned.
The centerpiece of the film is Javier Bardem as Chigurh. Bardem is a very talented actor, but here he taps into a fountain of evil that has rarely been seen onscreen. He is a true movie monster. Speaking in a low monotone voice, but very cunning in his speech, Chigurh makes people earn their right to live, whether it be in the form of a coin toss or other simplistic methods. Josh Brolin, who has been in meatier roles of late, is also a standout as Moss. He has impeccable comic timing and earns some tough laughs in an understated role. Tommy Lee Jones, playing a cop, of course, steals each scene he is in. His opening and closing speeches are not to be missed.
No Country for Old Men certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but those who value precise, deliberate storytelling combined with well-defined characters will walk out with plenty to think about and discuss. After a few moderate disappointments (The Ladykillers, Intolerable Cruelty), the Coens are back and in top form. This is intense, provocative filmmaking on every level that is sure to be one of the best American films of the year.
Studio: Miramax Films
Length: 122 Minutes
Rating: R for strong graphic violence and some language.
Theatrical Release: May 19, 2007 (Cannes Film Festival) / November 9, 2007 (Limited) / November 16, 2007 (Wide)
Directed by: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
Written by: Ethan Coen & Joel Coen. Based upon the novel by Cormac McCarthy.
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt