No Country For Old Men
Review by Jack Foley
FOR many, the Coen brothers [Joel and Ethan] are never better than when exploring the darker side of life in crime based drama-thrillers such as Fargo, Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing.
Hence, No Country For Old Men – their first serious film for some time – is being hailed as a serious return to form by critics and fans alike. It’s another instant classic, adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, and featuring one of the coolest and most terrifying movie characters you’re likely to see for a very long time.
It’s Texas, 1980, and hunter Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) happens across the aftermath of a drug deal gone sour and a suitcase full of cash. Taking it, Moss bids to lie low for a while, fully aware that questions will be asked concerning its whereabouts.
What he doesn’t count on, however, is the presence of unstoppable hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who sets off in pursuit of the money in relentless fashion.
It’s left to veteran sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) to make sense of the carnage as he comes to grips with the realisation that he is getting too old to tackle this new kind of lawlessness.
No Country For Old Men is a film is to be savoured for many reasons – not least of which is Bardem’s sensational portrayal of Chigurh whose weapon of choice is a compressed air powered abattoir gun and who often decides a person’s fate on the toss of a coin.
Chigurh may look kind of strange, especially in terms of hairstyle, but he’s a cold-blooded, clinical assassin who almost never fails to carry out his job once on someone’s trail. Coupled with an obscure sense of logic, he’s a mean customer (and possibly even ghost) who leaves a truly lasting impression.
Bardem, though, is merely the icing on the cake. For in look, style, content and all-round acting, No Country For Old Men is a force to be reckoned with. Brolin is equally compelling as the unwitting Moss, Tommy Lee Jones shines as the world-weary sheriff (a pale imitation of his persona from The Fugitive), Woody Harrelson enjoys a delightful extended cameo as a fellow hitman and Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald injects some much needed heart as Brolin’s unfortunate wife (complete with flawless Texan accent).
The Coens, too, deserve credit for staying so loyal to McCarthy’s source material, eschewing the need for a cliched, or comfortable conclusion and frequently flying in the face of most narrative convention.
The three leads, in particular, never get to share a scene, while some of the key moments take place out of the camera’s gaze. The ending, too, feels abrupt but is totally in keeping with both McCarthy’s novel and the Coens’ offbeat sensibility.
And yet none of this detracts from the overall power or lasting brilliance of the piece. No Country For Old Men shines because it has the courage of its convictions. It recalls the Coens’ past brilliance, whilst tipping its hat to the old West romanticism and violence of Peckinpah and Leone.
It’s tense, often nail-bitingly so, darkly humorous and contains several set pieces of audacious brilliance. But it’s intelligent, reflective and above all involving, ensuring that you care about the fate of just about every character (whether it’s a parking station attendant or one of the central players). In short, it’s a masterpiece and unquestionably the first must-see film of 2008.
Running time: 2hrs 2mins
UK DVD Release: June 2, 2008
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Joel & Ethan Coen interview
- Javier Bardem interview
- View our photo gallery
- Josh Brolin interview
- Kelly Macdonald interview
- No Country named best film by NY critics
- No Country scoops Critics' Choice Awards
- No Country in AFI's Top 10 of 2007
- Read our preview