No Country for Old Men (2007)
Release Date: November 21st, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Actors: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Root, Garret Dillahunt, Ana Reeder
elentless in method, challenging in presentation, and unforgettable in execution, the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed novel glimpses pure genius in its characters and suspenseful build, but sacrifices much of the clarity (though not the power) of its narration in the strict adherence to the source material. Boasting some of the finest performances of the year, the Coen’s fantastically intricate thriller demands an astute mind and a perceptive eye to decipher the multilayered parallels that reside in the script (particularly potent is the clash between Old West violence and a new level of brutality found in modern crime – or traditional showdowns versus the gray areas of senseless, chaotic carnage). And its abrupt finale is sure to divide audiences as much as it ensures an experience that can’t be easily shaken.
When Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong, he flees the deserted desert locale with $2 million in cash. But this kicks off a persistent pursuit by several interested parties, including the cunning yet psychopathic murderer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), cocky hitman Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), and the regularly reasoning Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). While Llewelyn struggles to stay alive and protect those he loves, the unavoidable confrontation with his chasers steadily arrives, as does unflinching fate and its striking finality.
With its existentialist perspectives on life and death and good and evil, “No Country for Old Men” examines several complex subjects, many requiring further investigation into the symbolism of the characters and the events portrayed. But what the film sacrifices in its quest to fully represent Cormac McCarthy’s speculations and musings on humanity is the conventionality of storytelling that many moviegoers all but demand. Initially, the film follows Llewellyn’s struggle to survive against the unyielding force of Anton’s steely-eyed hunter. The film grows with tension and flawless pacing, allowing the audience to familiarize themselves with these two exceptional roles and their engaging missions. But a harsh transition back to Sheriff Bell’s narration and story arc is a sudden, abrasive shift that serves to disorient more than amuse.
As if purposely cheating viewers out of seeing each subplot through to completion, “No Country for Old Men” jumps around not in its time sequencing, but with its time lapses. Interactions that most audiences would determine to be crucial are simply not shown, instead displaying aftermaths and subsequent narratives that are intended to fill in the unexpected gaps. While this method of storytelling is both radically unique and faithful to the book, it lessens the appeal to anyone expecting vital – or merely basic – information to be served up in a relatively understandable manner. But there’s a point to this – an exercise in inevitability versus chance, fate versus self-governance. Here is a film that strives to appeal to scholars and critics more than to average patrons, which generates an intermittently displeasing balance that is too much “Barton Fink” and not enough “Fargo.” Although one gets the distinct feeling that the Coen Brothers chose this novel based on the similarities in its plot and characters to their own styles and tastes for projects (minus their usual loquaciousness), the result is entirely a Coen Brothers picture, despite starting with another writer’s material.
While “No Country for Old Men” may not find perfection in its unorthodox narrative, what has indeed found cinematic sublimity is the collection of performances. Brolin pulls the audience into his despairing situation, embodying a sympathetic yet ethically flawed antihero. A victim of greed, obstinance, and unfortunate circumstances – and with a blind refusal to accept consequences – Llewelyn provides a focal point for a pressing journey that never ebbs in intensity or moral conflict. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Javier Bardem’s monumental portrayal of ruthless slayer Chigurh reinvents the notion of an unstoppable juggernaut, while also realizing one of the most imaginative, gut-wrenching instruments of murder ever given to its wielder. Violently dispatching his victims with the addition of a fateful coin toss and an incomprehensible code of honor, Chigurh blends the best of stone-faced stalkers from the finest of slashers with the cold and calculating demeanor of the more intelligent breed of murder/mystery serial killers. Rarely have movie antagonists created such a mesmerizing presence. And Tommy Lee Jones’ Bell furnishes the brunt of the sarcastic, witty dialogue inherent to the Coen Brothers’ scripts, while also providing a narrator of sorts to offer the audience an untainted view of the horrific events unfolding. The supporting cast all turn in admirable performances as well, most notably from Woody Harrelson as the egotistic Wells, and Kelly Macdonald as Llewelyn’s naïve wife.
A brilliant examination of unavoidable fate and unconventional storytelling, the Coen Brothers’ latest effort is one of masterful precision. And though the story is based on McCarthy’s renowned neo-Western, “No Country for Old Men” still retains the unmistakable mark of the writing/directing duo. Combined with phenomenal personas in a violently, tragically unforgiving world, this nail-biting saga of murder, mayhem, and destiny is a must-see event.
– The Massie Twins