Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen
Novel: Cormac McCarthy
Producers: Scott Rudin, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 122 min
It’s official (if it wasn’t already). The Coens have immortalized themselves in the cinematic hall of fame as two of the most iconic and greatest storytellers of the last 100 years. With a seemingly neverending string of more than impressive films already dangling from their belt, they’ve capped it off with what could easily be considered their best film and more than likely to be considered their masterpiece by many in the growing circle of film critics and pundits.
Taking place almost 30 years ago in the dry, rugged terrain of western Texas, No Country for Old Men is just as sweltering as the arid wastes of the landscape. Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss comes across a drug deal gone bad while hunting antelope. There are bodies scatterd everywhere and of course an unclaimed satchel full of money. In spite of his better judgement, Llewelyn grabs the loot and heads home; knowing full well whoever lost it will be coming back to find it. Hot on his trail is Anton Chigurh, a relentless psychopath, played deliciously by Javier Bardem, who is hell bent on retrieving his money – and killing anyone who gets in his way. Add to the mix, Tommy Lee Jones, as an aging sherriff caught in a world uncomprehensible to him and you’ve got stellar roles by stellar actors all playing their part in top notch form.
read the rest of the review and see the trailer…
You can say what you will about the acting strengths of Brolin, who’s had a string of successful roles throughout the year (Grindhouse, Elah, American Gangster) and Tommy Lee Jones (who just seems to get batter as he ages – nearly topping his performance in last year’s Three Burials of Malquiades Estrada). This movie is all Bardem. He brings to life a villain so memorable and so terrifying that he is sure to enter the subconscious of hundreds of movie goers this weekend and provide for hours of sleepless nights. The vocal intonations (or lack thereof) and his cold, distracted eyes make for one of the most iconic, villainous characters of the last twenty years.
Several key side roles just add to the cinematic enjoyment here. Kelly Macdonald, playing the slightly dim-witted wife to Llewelyn, performs admirably here in a role that certainly could’ve used more screen time. I’m anxious to see what else Ms Macdonald can do in the near future. Her role reminded me very much of the Oscar nominated performance by the great Amy Adams two years ago in Junebug. Throw in Garret Dillahunt, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root and Woody Harrelson at various points throughout the film and the screen is filled with recognizable faces. While all work well, Harrelson was the only miscast. Harrelson’s work is normally fairly palatable and I don’t blame him for being out of place (that was a casting mistake), but I felt his presence just didn’t fit with the character he played.
Having read the novel, I can tell you that the screenplay is very faithful to the source material. Cormac McCarthy has a written a story for the ages and much of the dialogue is taken verbatim from the book. Sure some text has been cut for time and charcters trimmed just a tad (more Tommy Lee Jones please); but for the most part, No Country for Old Men is shot for shot, taken page by page from the novel. The directing syle and actors are the ones who have breathed life into the numbered pieces of paper. McCarthy’s “The Road” and “Blood Meridian” have already been optioned by studios and are in the midst of pre-production as you read.
While completely different from the normal Coen fare, it’s laced with just enough of their signature moves to make it recognizable as theirs. A crime caper gone wrong and characters who make implausible, yet somehow believable, decisions is exactly what the Coens do best. Add to this just a touch of humor in the right places and it is unmistakably a Coen Brothers film. And beyond that, the small homages that only a select few of us (born and raised in St. Louis Park, Minnesota) can appreciate and it adds that little extra touch that is something special.
There are two things that are most significant about this picture. One, is the total lack of scoring. Aside from one or two moments where an off-kilter, almost ambient, tone can be heard, the rest of the film is totally devoid of any music. This is a wonderful treat that needs to be utilized more by directors. It makes the story deliver the dramatic punches instead of giving us the Michael Bay overindulgence of emotional impact that just ends up being cheesy. Not only does it use the actors and dialogue as the vehicle for driving the content of the film, it also allows its viewers to more readily hear what is happening. And done correctly, these aural cues can be MUCH more convincing and emotional than a violin or cymbal crash. No Country for Old Men does it impeccably.
Without giving anything away, the ending to the film must be mentioned. If you’re scared by anything remotely considered to be a spoiler, now would be a good time to skip to the next paragraph. Undoubtedly, the thing that will spark the most conversation and have audiences completely divided on the film will be the ending. Message boards will be filled with spoilerific discussions and water coolers will be surrounded by people on two sides of the argument: the ending sucked or the ending was fabulous. Ironically, I’m in between. I do believe it to be a bold move and I can appreciate the message that the abrupt, even unfinished ending carries. However, this doesn’t stop the normal, human response of, “Really? That’s it?” It’s a normal reaction that people will immediately be struck down by. Some will walk away shaking their heads. Those that like to think about it for a while may come to realize its greatness.
While there certainly is plenty of violence and murder throughout the film, it’s surprisingly not all that bloody. Many of the kills are just out of camera shot and several of them take place while our attention is elsewhere and the murder is only alluded to or we only see the aftermath. This isn’t to say the movie is for the squeamish. There are some graphic scenes of medical procedures and yes, brutal murders (using an air compressor and a cattle bolt shot). Averting one’s eyes at key moments may be necessary.
While certainly not my favorite Coen boys effort, it’s arguably their best. The details of what’s on screen and the way in which the directors refuse to pan to their audience is what makes their genius undeniable. We’re forced to notice things and empathize with the characters on our own. We’re not being spoon fed here. The audience is having a terrific story spun for them and it’s up to them if they want to come along for the ride. Some may disagree with where they end up, but that’s the nature of the story. I can safely say we’ll be seeing a few names from the cast and crew of No Country for Old Men popping up at this year’s Oscar ceremony. Brilliant.
Click “play” to see the trailer: