O Coen Brothers, where art thou? After a decade of passable yet uninspired fare such as “The Ladykillers” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” we may finally be witnessing the resurgence of a duo that once won an Oscar for teaching us the merits of putting a dead body through a wood chipper. All they needed for motivation was a country gone to hell.
“No Country For Old Men,” a faithful rendition of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, is a return to form for two of America’s most distinctly deranged filmmakers, echoing shades of earlier crime-thrillers like “Fargo” and “Blood Simple.”
Like these triumphs, the plot can be reduced to a sentence or two, while the inherent nuances of the film paint a picture that is far more complex.
After coming across a murder scene while hunting antelope along the West Texas border, good ol’ boy Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) discovers a stash of heroin, a suitcase full of cash and a thirsty Mexican.
What Moss thinks is his big break turns out to be a race for survival as he becomes absorbed in an endless game of cat-and-mouse with a ruthless killer named Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem), who atleast on the surface is out to reclaim the stolen money.
All the while, ho-hum police sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) attempts to track down both parties, becoming increasingly disheartened by the crumbling environment that surrounds him. To Bell, it’s only a matter of time before things get messy. Do they ever.
Like only the Coen brothers can do, “No Country For Old Men” takes a by-the-numbers chase plot and injects it with a hefty dose of comedy, action and horror, oftentimes in the same scene. The film’s iridescent cinematography, haunting score, tight editing and precise and economical dialogue are all worth mention, but it’s the cast that really steals the show.
All performances are exceptional, beginning with Brolin as the conflicted cowboy. Brolin attacks the role with a righteousness that will leave you cheering for him to make it out alive.
Tommy Lee Jones shows that he’s got a lot of bite left in his bark as the road-weary sheriff, and Woody Harrleson makes a memorable appearance as the cocky bounty hunter Carson Wells. But it’s the relatively unknown Javien Bardem who steals the show, as the psychopathic serial killer with warped morals and a bad haircut.
Chigurh is a villain for the ages – the type of man who, as Wells aptly explains, will kill you for inconveniencing him. As the embodiment of pure evil, he slaughters his victims with a stun gun (my nomination for best weapon of choice ever) and leaves many a fate up to the flip of a coin.
Aside from being a great action film, this is a terse examination of evil and a parable for the decay of modern civilization. When all the dust has settled, the film’s final 20 minutes will leave you breathless and defeated.
A certain portion of the audience will feel shortchanged and bewildered by the disillusioned finale. These are the same people who tend to deem “Independence Day” an American classic. Sorry guys, this one’s not so simple.
In what’s been a memorable and divisive year in film, “No Country For Old Men” is the most accessible, resonant and entertaining of them all, cynically exploiting a perishing society and making it the best film of 2007.
Milbrand is a member of the class of 2008.