MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Western Crime Thriller/ Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root, Rodger Boyce, Beth Grant, Ana Reeder/ Runtime: 122 minutes
I think it is safe to say that it would not come as a surprise to me if a movie like ‘No Country for Old Men’ would ultimately prove to be quite the polarizing cinematic viewing experience for some viewers, but especially the ones who are used to a rousing and epic finale where both the good guy and bad guy decide to draw their guns in one final duel in order to settle their feud once and for all. The reason that I make the claim that I do however is because ‘No Country for Old Men’ is a film that, despite all the criminal mayhem that occurs throughout, manages not only to dabble a great deal towards existentialism, but also is a very unconventional watch; both in regards to genre and the way the narrative is handled. Thankfully I can honestly say that it was a stroke of genius then to bring the masterclass filmmakers that are the Coen Brothers on board to direct this. This is because, among their many strengths as filmmakers, one of their more defining attributes is the fact that they manage to blend together different elements and thus create something with its own unique character. Suffice it to say this is also true with their work in No Country for Old Men because while there are some subtle tributes to the Western genre, the fact that this film’s narrative manages to takes place in the early 80’s where society has moved on, technology has improved, and yet crime is just as deadly and prevalent as ever also helps qualify it as a film noir in a lot of ways thus making for a unique blending of genres that only the Coen Brothers could pull off this well. Indeed, thanks to a taut and engaging story, and some truly wonderful work from a cast and crew that are all at the very pinnacle of their A-Game, No Country for Old Men is an absolutely phenomenal film that also could be seen as a true work of art plain and simple.
The plot is as follows: While out hunting in the back country one day in West Texas, an ordinary guy named Llewellyn Moss finds himself coming across a group of bodies, drugs, and over 2 million in cash in what is clearly the aftermath of a drug deal gone badly. Upon seeing the cash however, Moss sees an opportunity to make life better for both himself and his wife and impulsively takes it. Of course it should be said that no action comes without its own set of consequences both good and bad. A fact that will soon see our “hero” evading a psychopathic hitman and other interested parties while also confronting the frailty of life, his own mortality, and if he has even a remote chance at survival. All the while we also get to witness an aging Texas sheriff who, upon discovering both the crime scene and that Moss has the money, sets out in a dual-tiered attempt to both find Moss and keep him safe. Of course it should go without saying, but the best laid plans of mice and men rarely if ever go as well as they ought to. A lesson that by the end of this chase all parties concerned will know better than they ever thought possible……
Now I feel that this is a film which manages to showcase the best possible blending of both thrills and excitement that would be expected out of a movie in this genre. Indeed I say this because I feel that the way that the highly nerve wrecking pursuit sequences between Chigurh and Moss are done with the skill of a master as they manage in equal measure to both draw out a sense of tension and dread to the max while also proving extremely able of getting an audience to locate just where exactly the very edge of their seats truly is. Indeed this is a remarkable feat which is able to be accomplished by not only a meticulous sense of editing, but also a degree of directing that knows when and when not to bring out the tense atmosphere lazily hanging around and utilizing it to full effect. Also of worthy and remarkable note is the absolutely fantastic cinematography and photography courtesy of Hollywood master Roger Deakins of these truly vast and seemingly limitless scenes in the desert. Indeed even though they are made up of what you might consider as “empty space”, and no action of any significant sort is unfolding on screen, these moments still do an immensely impressive job not only of allowing the images on screen to speak for themselves, but also to enable the narrative to be told in a visual style that is both arresting and engaging in equal measure.
Yet I think it is a safe bet to say that ‘No Country for Old Men’ is a film which is absolutely loaded to the brim with this particularly distinct kind of film-making. Indeed it really does seem like everything be it a movement of a camera, a particular background and even other details that may seem trivial to many really aren’t to the Coens. If anything these are the elements that they manage to utilize to the fullest extent, but not just for their benefit. Rather it is because they see it as the most effective method to tell this particular narrative properly and you as a movie goer will see is the best way for you to not only experience the narrative, but to be immersed in this world and the lives of these characters as well. For no finer example, then definitely observe the moments in the film where Tommy Lee Jones finds himself being really saddled, pun intended, with the aspect of facing off not only against something that just may be significantly greater in terms of force than even himself, but even more unnerving, is something that he has found that he “does not understand” and you will see what I am trying to convey. Indeed this is because the world and the atmosphere that have been assembled together by the filmmakers and their crew manages to brilliantly encapsulate not only the performances of the cast, but also just what the film is trying to tell audiences. Indeed if you wanted to pinpoint ways that really distinguish this film and make it more than just a simple chase through West Texas kinda film then this would definitely main point numero uno.
Yet out of everything that I feel this movie does spectacularly well, it is my opinion that the biggest accomplishment that this film manages to pull off is the fact that this film possesses the distinct ability to take us into a version of our world where everything from the emotions to the choices and realities in the lives of these characters is brought vividly to life and then showcased in such a way that allows us as film goers to be able to, after the whole 122 minute film viewing experience, reflect upon what we have just witnessed and be able to look back with an analytical lens, but also careful consideration and a distinct perspective as well. Indeed I think it is safe to say that by the end of this film fellow movie lovers you will be absolutely stunned into silence due in equal measure to both the beauty as well as the madness surrounding all of the events you just witnessed. Yet in addition to that you will also, just as much as the characters, have learned a hard lesson in just how quickly innocence can be lost especially when it is worn down by the forces of both evil and violence. Indeed this is a lesson which I feel it is safe to say that is dived into in the best cinematic ways possible and given to us as the audience not only with an abundance of human emotion, but also with the most potent impact imaginable. Indeed even the violence, of which there is a fair amount, and the bleak atmosphere that permeates throughout this film is not there to simply evoke a particular kind of emotional response or to aid the narrative in capturing the audience’s attention. Rather it is also there in order to do the best job possible of regaling a narrative and show the audience a particular series of incidents that come to have a significant impact in the lives of a handful of people and in their attempts to have that be the case I feel it is safe to say that the Coen Brothers have once again brilliantly succeeded. All at the same time however this is also a cinematic experience which also serves as a riveting study on the concepts of fate and chance and how they can dangerously intertwine, an exciting analysis on the freedom of choice and the consequences that can come about as a result of it, a deep meditation on the forces of both evil and good as forces in modern day society, and an absolutely riveting investigation into how some of the more basic human emotions such as hope, fear, love, violence and aspiration can really shine through in a variety of situations where no more and no less than your very existence is on the line.
Now this is a film where the acting involved is just purely exceptional and it all starts with Josh Brolin as Llewellyn Moss. Indeed it isn’t incorrect in even the slightest to say that Brolin is the film’s anchor and one could even argue the point of the view of the movie goer in this. Not only that, but I would go even so far as to say that not only does he put life into the character, but he also brings a sense of pathos to him that consistently rings true. Indeed as the movie goes on you really do feel for him and the greedy mistake that has turned his life into this living nightmare yet as Moss finds himself turning into a man unwilling to go down without a fight, he also manages to earn your respect as well. Indeed it really is powerful work from an actor who really has come a long way from being an integral part of a lot of people’s childhoods in The Goonies. On the other side of the coin we have Tommy Lee Jones and as the law man who constantly finds himself stuck playing catch-up the whole movie while also being on the fringe of everything that goes down I feel that Jones does a remarkable job in this role. Indeed although the majority of his work in this film is simply delivering dialogue for the audience to both ponder and digest in equal measure it is delivered with such a terrific and down-to-earth sense of gravitas that you feel like he really truly is speaking to the bigger picture of things, and not just himself and to the audience. Indeed he may not get the most screen time out of the three main characters, but trust me when I say that Jones makes the most out of every single minute.
Yet even with those taut and engaging performances on display, I definitely feel that I can’t help but agree with the majority of the people who have seen this film when they say that in his role of Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem manages to give audiences one of the most disturbing yet electrifying villains to ever appear on the silver screen since Sir Anthony Hopkins gave the world his first portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ back in the 90’s. Indeed Bardem manages to do an excellent job of just being the absolute essence of pure evil as well as being the very manifestation of violence in a way that is intelligent, eerie, and just downright forceful that will send a shiver down your spine no matter how many times you watch his performance. Indeed, much in the same vein as Hopkins, Bardem manages to become evil, but not evil in what many might consider to be in the most conventional and simple sense; rather it is in a way that somehow presents to us the whole magnitude and complexity of the very nature of not only what evil is, but also what it can be. Indeed even in the dialogue that Bardem utilizes throughout this film we as an audience are slowly but surely shown a style of thinking that is equal measure cold yet calculating and highly philosophical yet ruthless, sinister, and twisted beyond all imagining. Suffice it to say then that not only does Bardem create a great character in this, but rather he manages to create a villain for the ages.
All in all it’s not an easy task to sit down and watch ‘No Country for Old Men.’ Indeed the very first time I ever saw this film, I had the distinct privilege of finding myself immediately in a tailspin, and a unique mixture of dazed and shocked to just the right degree that I was not able to stand in the immediate aftermath. Yet, blended in with the dazed feeling of shock was something else; it was no more and no less than a deep deep sensation of both amazement and appreciation for what I just witnessed unfold. Yet even then it still took this reviewer at least one more viewing to be able to completely and totally understand and respect not only what this film’s meaning was, but also what it was trying to tell me. Indeed although the experience that can often happen when one sees this film from beginning to end is certainly not one that the majority of the world will enjoy let alone understand, on my end of things I can most certainly say that without a doubt this film is easily one of the most moving and thought-provoking movies I have ever had the privilege of being able to watch time and time again. Indeed this truly is the type of film which will leave you deep in thought, and that will stay a part of you no matter how much time has come and gone since you watched it and for that it truly is all the better. On a scale of 1-5 I give No Country for Old Men a solid 4.5 out of 5.