No Country for Old Men
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Handily one of the best films of 2007, Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country for Old Men” is a harrowing and infinitely engaging tale of death, survival, and ultimate burnout. It is largely a chase film where a relentless ghoul is pursuing a resourceful antihero across the dead Texan landscape, but is mostly about the obstacles that block our path while fleeing the onslaught if time and death: old age, belief in humanity, unpreparedness for evil.
Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, a Texan hunter who stumbles upon a botched drug deal out in the Texan desert. Everyone is dead, except for one man who is dying of thirst, and left behind is a suitcase full of money. He steals the money and heads back to his wife (Kelly Macdonald), but decides, some would say unwisely, to the scene of the crime to slake the thirst of the dying man. He is spotted by other criminals returning at the same time, and thus begins his cross-state odyssey as he runs for safety.
Llewelyn soon realizes that there is a single man on his trail, a man named Chigurh, who is handy with a gun, and even handier with an air-pressure slaughterhouse tool. Chigurh is played by Javier Bardem, and Bardem plays him with a steely, steeltrap gaze and a clam poise that makes him seem even more than terrifying, indeed, almost supernatural in his one-minded desire to complete a task and to kill. The bulk of “No Country for Old Men” is a cat-and-mouse game between the two men who, while equally resourceful, never seem to meet in person. These portions of the film are reminiscent of The Coen Bros. own “Blood Simple,” but with the tension cranked to even more fevered pitches. And, even though neither of them speak too much, we do get a full sense of who they are. This is the first time we’ve had this from the coen’s since “Fargo” in 1996.
In pursuit of the two men is the local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). He is a down-homey, hearty-breakfast eatin’ old-timer of the old school. He is a good investigator, paying attention to the small details that he needs to track down Chigurh, but ultimately ends up being tired out and baffled by the ghoul’s one-minded need to commit atrocities. Also involved is a fellow named Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) who seems he might have the answer to stopping Chugurh, but perhaps not.
“No Country for Old Men” is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy whose books I have not read, but I understand that he has a tragic bent to his work. Joel and Ethan Coen, in adapting the work, have certainly kept a strong sense of tragedy in tact. But rather than preaching or making us miserable, they have made a taut thriller, and an effective look at each generations confusion in dealing with the harsh ambition of the generation to follow it.
Also, in a way, “No Country for Old Men” plays like an adult slasher film. In Chigurh, we have a perfectly driver killer, almost supernatural, who refuses to die, and is hellbent on mayhem, just like a Jason or a Freddy. The hero is resourceful in avoiding the killer, and just may escape, but we always get the feeling it could go either way. Rather than killing for cheap thrills, though, we have real death and amplified fear to deal with.