Every now and then a film comes along that not only keeps your eyes glued to the screen, but engrosses you in the story to such an extent that you don’t ever want the surreal experience to end. For me, these films include, Pulp Fiction, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, City of God, and the Coen Brothers’ 1998 phenomenon The Big Lebowski. The Coen Brothers’ recent release, No Country for Old Men, falls into this category as it presents a perfect mixture of humor and suspense along with sensational performances that make for an explosive film experience. The film marks a solid resurrection and comeback for the notorious Coen Brothers, whose last few flicks (The Lady Killers and Intolerable Cruelty) didn’t fly over so well and constituted as a dip in quality compared to some of their outstanding achievements. The talented two-headed duo strike gold as they adapt the novel to utilize their flairs for great camerawork and dialogue from peculiar characters with the suspense and tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
No Country for Old Men is set in a small desolate town in west Texas in 1980 run by Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). One day a hunter, Llewyan Moss (Josh Brolin), stumbles upon a drug deal gone horribly wrong that has left all parties dead at the scene. Moss scopes the place out and finds a satchel of $2 million dollars. He takes it and is pursued by a diabolical psychopath, Anton Chigurgh (Javier Bardem), armed with a highly pressurized weapon that kills cattle. The tension and body count continues to rise as Moss runs from Chigurgh and Sheriff Bell struggles with his inability to deal with this new wave of brutality.
The Coen Brothers’ camerawork is sensational, making beautiful shots out of the desert and vast Texas landscape. In most of their serious movies, the Coens choose middle-of-nowhere places to set their film in order to make you focus on the characters and ignore the noise and distractions from the environment that may interfere. Their attention to detail is impeccable. Moments of silence are brilliantly used to create unbearable, nail-biting tension that foreshadows the impending doom of the characters. Certain scenes petrify viewers with the suspense geared by the slow progression and observing the execution of this masterful thriller as it unfolds is seeing filmmaking at its best.
The standout of the film is Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurgh. More than just a sadistic and sinister psychopath, Chigurgh has no shred of remorse as he kills victims left and right. He is seemingly indestructible. This performance is haunting – you can see the evil in his eyes and could be the greatest villain performance since Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lector. Described as “the ultimate badass” and somewhere in the realm of the bubonic plague, Chigurgh unleashes hell as this man’s principles “transcends more than any amount of money or drugs.”
It’s the nature of the amoral kind, like Chigurgh, that makes this Texas border town a new sort of reckless anarchy that Sheriff Bell is unable to move with the times on. Tommy Lee Jones is great as the top lawman filled with grit and wisdom. It’s through him that the Coen Brothers’ sharp witty dialogue flows out. That’s not to say that it can’t be found in Moss or the others. Brolin is excellent as the model cowboy who’s life has been spent observing the good nature of life, but is altered when he comes across a satchel of money that he hopes to make he and his wife’s life better.
Originally a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy, the Coen Brothers adapted Country to the silver screen with the underlying moral that greed and avarice isn’t only just the root of all evil, but can lead to the destruction of a good man’s life if he stumbles. This is the opposite theme presented in their 1994 comedy The Hudsucker Proxy, showing that avarice leads to great advances in life. The Coens stuck to their guns and remained faithful to McCarthy’s novel while coupling it with their unique sense of filming style.