November 19, 2007

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

Every once in a while a movie will grab you by the throat with its excellence. No Country for Old Men is one of those movies. It grabs hold and digs into your brain, daring you not to watch. I have not quite worked out all of the details, but there is no denying the films greatness. With their latest outing, the Coen brothers may just have crafted the finest film of their career (I say may because there are a couple I still need to see).

On its surface it is a thriller about who has the money, but beyond the mechanics and all of the surface thrills is a film filled with fascinating characters who have to make dire decisions. This is a movie that you will not be able to take your eyes off of until the final moment, a moment which will likely leave you with more questions than you'd think considering, where it all started.

Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out hunting one evening when he comes across a circled group of tucks, not unlike a wagon train brought together for the protection of its passengers. What would normally be seen as a sign of protection is anything but in the hands of the Coens (working from a novel by Cormac McCarthy). A closer look reveals numerous dead bodies. "They even shot the dog," a character remarks later on. A curious Llewellyn takes closer inspection of the scene, uncovering a stash of neatly stacked packages of drugs (cocaine? heroin? does it really matter?) and one badly injured, yet still alive Mexican.

Realizing that where there are drugs and dead bodies there must be money, Llewellyn heads off deeper into the desert terrain, discovering a man, dead, beneath a shade tree in the possession of a satchel filled with money. Inside the case is two million dollars, money that Llewellyn has decided to claim as his own. What he did not count on was Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a psychopathic killer intent on reclaiming the money. It is never made clear just what his connection to the money is, but one could safely assume that he was involved in setting up the deal that went bad.

The tale is told in between moments with Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Each of these moments has the Sheriff musing on the latest turn of events in the case. Bell knows that Llewellyn has the money, he also knows that there is someone on his tail, a relentless pursuer who has no qualms about killing anyone in his path. He also relates the events to his own life, how times are changing and moving beyond his abilities. The sheriff does make an effort to protect Llewellyn from the coming storm, but he knows that his attempts will ultimately prove futile.

To learn all of the facts, to discover all the nuance, I suspect that No Country for Old Men will demand multiple viewings. It may play it straight for most of the time, but that surface simplicity belies the complexity that lurks beneath the surface. This is especially true when the ending rolls around. It is a nebulous conclusion that will leave you wondering what exactly happened, and just what became of that MacGuffin (the money)? What happened in the hotel room? These are only a couple of things that will occupy your mind when you leave the theater..

As many questions as I had, and have, the biggest impression the movie made was in Javier Bardem's performance. He is pure evil. From the goofy haircut to his matter of fact mannerisms, if he is standing before you, you do not have much time left. Scarier than a score of slasher icons, Anton Chigurh is real. His weapon of choice? A compressed air stun gun used for killing cattle. Well, that and a silenced shotgun. There is something about Anton that will live in the back of your mind for days, if not longer, after seeing the movie.

Bardem's is not the only performance of note. We cannot forget either Josh Brolin or Tommy Lee Jones. Brolin has put a fine cap on what has to be the best year of his career, having already had a strong appearance in American Gangster, as well as being in In the Valley of Elah and Planet Terror. Here he gives a compelling portrait of a man who acts out of greed, and rides the wave of tragedy to the very end. Meanwhile, Tommy Lee Jones continues to put out good work. He has so much range and depth in his expressions, and his delivery is unmatched.

The technical aspects of No Country for Old Men are also first rate. Roger Deakins' cinematography punctuates the incredibly bleak outlook of the story. The colors, the use of sunlight and silhouette, everything is simply gorgeous. On top of that, the sound design is masterful. There is a lack of score in the majority of the film, allowing the sounds to take on a more immediately impactive nature. As an example of this, just listen to the sound of the silenced shotgun and try to tell me that is not a bone-chilling sound.

Bottomline. Easily one of the best films of the year. From the acting, to the script, to the look, it is all nearly perfect and a fantastic return to form for the Coen's. It is only playing in limited release, but it deserves to be seen on the big screen. If you are able to, make it a point to experience this bleak and darkly comic journey.

Highly Recommended.


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