No Country For Old Men * * * * *
Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen.
Screenplay: Ethan & Joel Coen.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root, Rodger Boyce, Ana Reeder, Beth Grant, Gene Jones.
Ever since their dark debut “Blood Simple” in 1984, Joel & Ethan Coen have commanded an audience’s attention. They followed that up with the wacky and kinetic comedy “Raising Arizona” in 1987, proving early on, that they were comfortable in any genre. That hasn’t changed over the years but what it does do, is leave you with feelings of anticipation whenever they deliver another film. You just never know what light or dark delights they are going to deliver. This film is the darkest delight they have delivered so far.
While hunting in the Texas desert, a young mid-west cowboy (Josh Brolin) comes across a botched drug deal and decides to snatch a satchel of cash. Unknowingly, there are bigger things at work here and his foolish decision attracts the attention of a relentless hitman (Javier Bardem) who has been sent to recover the money. As bodies begin to pile in their wake, a local Sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) has the duty of hunting them down.
To foreshorten the opening lines of this film and give an insight from the disillusioned protagonist Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, we are told “… the crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”” Sheriff Bell is at a loss to explain human behaviour and the evil actions of people that he has pursued throughout his career in law enforcement. He is the weary heart and soul of this movie and a character that Tommy Lee Jones can do in his sleep. He serves as one part of three characters whose lives explosively intersect. The others include; Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) a foolish young man who doesn’t quite grasp the enormity of his actions, which in turn, attract the attention of very disturbed and dangerous killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) – who makes decisions on the flip of a coin and wields a hydrolic cattle gun as a weapon. Cleverly, the Coens have them sharing very little (if any) screen time and Jones’ Sherrif always two steps behind the aftermath of destructive events.
As always, the Coens are at the top of their game and have a good grasp on this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. They capture his recurrent themes; isolation, the passing of time and changing epoch’s. In “The Road” McCarthy explored a post-apocalyptic change. In this, it’s the end of the western way of life and despite life-experienced characters, a lack of understanding in the reasons for it’s happening. Throughout their films they have delivered consistent moments of suspense. Here though, the Coens outdo themselves with regular scenes of unbearable tension (done without the use of music). The actors are all up to the task and despite Lee Jones and the Oscar winning Bardem receiving most of the plaudits, Brolin also delivers an absolutely solid, low-key performance. No Coen brothers review would be complete without mentioning the sublime talents of their regular cinematographer Roger Deakins. Yet again, his stark and beautiful camerawork compliments the barren landscapes that these characters roam. As always, his and the Coens’ vision complete one another. One of the brothers’ finest films and thoroughly deserving of its best picture and director(s) Oscar awards.
If you’re aware of the Coen brothers’ canon (and most filmgoers are) then combine “Fargo” and “Blood Simple” and this is what you get… only better. A very gripping and powerful neo-western.