Author: Anthony Ostland and Henry Meier
THE MOVIE No Country for Old Men
DIRECTOR Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
WRITERS Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
STARRING Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald
RELEASED 11/21/2007 Nationwide
DURATION 2 hours, 2 minutes
Blood Simple. Raising Arizona. The Hudsucker Proxy. Fargo. The Big Lebowski. O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Man Who Wasn’t There. If you’re not grinning from ear to ear as you read these movie titles and recall masterful plot outlines and intriguing character development (The Dude; H.I. and Ed), then maybe you just aren’t cut out for this movie stuff. This week in film, we checked out Ethan and Joel Coen’s latest installment to their already-legendary resumes, No Country for Old Men.
The Coens are a force of nature, and thank God they’re here to remind us of film’s spellbinding ability to fill you up, knock you down and wrap up the immeasurable strangeness of life in neat, messy packages. Every one of their movies is the kind that makes you fall in love with movies, and each of their films can be defined through the one character at its center. So far, no character introduced by the brothers has been anything like the nightmare of controlled psychotic rage that is Javier Bardem’s character Anton Chigurh.
On one level, No Country for Old Men—although set in the present day—plays like a classic Western, filled with quirky characters (a Coen trademark) and numerous shootouts. It is also a Greek tragedy of sorts, dealing with issues like greed and the increasing brutalization of social interaction.
The movie follows three characters whose paths are destined to cross. Anton Chigurh is a compassionless killing machine who remains dangerous even when handcuffed under police guard. Hired to track down drug money, Chigurh quickly kills those who hired him and begins to search for the money on his own. He carries a cattlegun that fires a cylinder from a hose which is connected to a tank of compressed air to destroy deadbolt locks and dispatch a host of victims. He also carries a silenced assault shotgun. Terrifying.
He wanders the plains of Texas, killing almost everyone he encounters except those lucky enough to win a coin toss. Chigurh embodies random violence and unpredictability of death, and he haunts the desolate landscape like a malevolent shadow.
The story also follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), an ex-welder who, while on a hunting trip, stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong. There are a lot of bodies, a truck full of “Mexican brown” and a suitcase filled with cash. Moss takes the latter, but eventually wishes he hadn’t, since the surviving owners want it back. Meanwhile, local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is drawn into all of this because Chigurh escaped from one of his deputies and the drug deal massacre happened in his territory. Bell symbolizes a kind of messenger whose primary role is to serve as our plot guide. He is the one constant throughout the film that helps depict other characters by way of story-telling or simply face-to-face encounters.
The Coen Brothers hauntingly contrast Bell’s laidback Texas drawl with the brutality and violence that is continually and stoically carried out during the rest of the film. While every scene was brimming with tension, the frequent flashes to Bell calmly assessing the chaos erupting around him provide a sense of stability, even if it is repeatedly shattered. Not only does this affect the moviegoer, but even our unshakable sheriff is slowly worn down. In the aftermath of it all, he is left with only questions about the dark side of humanity, questions that don’t necessarily have answers.
If there’s one thing that can always be said of a Coen Brothers film, it’s that conventional rules and expectations can and should be jettisoned. That’s certainly the case here, with a Western that’s not a Western, a crime thriller that’s not a crime thriller and a comedy that’s not a comedy. Like Fargo, the movie delights in making viewers scratch their scalps. While the ending may be a sore point for some, it will have others chuckling and nodding their heads appreciatively (perhaps after a brief “WTF?” when the credits begin to roll). That’s what good cinema should do, and the success of No Country for Old Men puts it among 2007’s motion picture elite.
1.This movie is different. It provokes further analysis after the credits roll. Give it a day or two to really settle in before you commit to any sort of criticism.
2. Not every movie leaves you with a tidy ending where every conflict has been resolved and every question is answered. Some of the best stories are the stories that allow the audience to take creative power upon themselves to fill in the blanks.
Anthony: If nothing else, No Country for Old Men should finally make Javier Bardem a star in this country. His portrayal of Anton Chigurh, an almost-superhuman assassin with a strange set of morals, is frightening and mesmerizing at the same time. His creepy effect on the story and neatly kept haircut are signifiers of the psychosis within. The performance is so fine-tuned that one sequence, where a deadpan Bardem forces a storekeeper to flip a coin to determine his fate, seems destined to join Robert De Niro’s unforgettable “You talkin’ to me” scene from Taxi Driver. Bardem’s character epitomizes the random order of life that the Coen Brothers illustrate in this film. In this world, everyone has his/her own story, everyone has the opportunity to do good or to do bad—just like the flip of a coin, our entire world can change.
Henry: The Coen Brothers have a knack for creating iconic movies, and No Country for Old Men is no exception. Visually it’s absolutely amazing, encompassing wide swathes of scrub desert. Combine this with brilliant characters, great acting and a story that leaves you on the edge of your seat, and two hours and two minutes later, you’ll be stunned.
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