No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, have done an amazing thing with Cormac McCarthy's novel "No Country for Old Men." Unlike the mediocre work by Billy Bob Thornton in "All the Pretty Horses," where Thornton let the movie slide away into romance and pathos, the Coens have honored the bone-dry essence of the novel. It's the story of a man, Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin), who thinks he's smarter than he is; out in his pickup hunting pronghorns in the arid country of west Texas, he comes across the dead bodies of a half a dozen men and the remains of a drug deal gone bad. As he pokes around he spots a briefcase; when he opens it he sees that it has $2 million inside.
He has an inkling that someone will be looking for the money, which is surely true; that person is Anton Chigurh (certainly the scariest man in films since Max Shreck in "Nosferatu," played with a kind of smile and a bizarre haircut by Javier Bardem), whom we meet when he strangles the cop who stopped him on the highway, then does away with someone else on the road by firing a cattle stun-gun, which releases a bolt into the brain and then returns out again. It is not a pretty sight.
The cat and mouse game occupies most of the film, but Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones), the man we're accustomed to seeing deal with criminals, has a different role to play here; it's what threw me because it defeated my expectations, but then I remembered Charlie Meadows - John Goodman as the man in the next room to John Turturro - in the Coen brothers' masterpiece "Barton Fink," in which you'll recall that he was, well, perhaps the personification of the apocalypse; the Coens are not afraid to let things go past where we expect them to go.
What is blatently presented here, with no apologies, is the most brutal, gory, scarifying film I've seen in ages, perhaps ever. The long shots of the bleak country are contrasted with exceedingly tight closeups of darkened motel rooms as Moss and Chigurh try to find each other, one to stay alive and one to do whatever is necessary to regain the money.
The Coens make no attempt to find a human side to Chigurh; he operates outside of all normal behaviors, killing at will as each death brings him closer to the money. We are not even told who hired him or how he knows where to go and what to do. It is true that the briefcase has a GPS transponder, but you must be close to it to find out; he goes from Odessa to the Mexican border to Del Rio in his search. How he knows is something that we must accept, which makes the film even more suspenseful. "No Country for Old Men" is a film on a par with the Coens' "Fargo," though believe me that film was a lot more fun than this one.