No Country for Old Men

 


Robin Clifford 
No Country for Old Men
Laura Clifford 
Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) travels the vast Texas plain poaching deer when he comes upon the remains of a remote, violent shootout. He finds a bunch of bodies, one man dying, a pickup truck stuffed with Mexican heroin and a set of blood-spattered tracks leading into the wasteland. He follows the tracks to their final stop and, beside the now-dead last man standing, discovers a leather case containing $2 million. He thinks he has it made until a mysterious psychopath lands on his trail and starts hunting Llewelyn down in “No Country for Old Men.”

Robin:
The Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel, have always been known for the quirky, often intriguing, films. The made a splash with their debut noir, “Blood Simple,” and continued to entertain with such films as Miller’s Crossing,” “Fargo,” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Sure, they missed the mark with “Barton Fink,” “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “The Man Who Wasn’t There” but, hell, you cannot win them all. It is nice to see the brothers’ latest, “No Country for Old Men,” hit so close to the bull’s-eye.

At the start of “No Country”,” we are introduced to Anton Chigurh (and I do not mean “Sugar”) (Javier Bardem), a psychopathic killer captured by a local sheriff. He not only escapes his jailers, with extreme mayhem, he secures a getaway car in the unique way of shooting a bolt through the head of its owner. His singular ability to survive and get the job done (any job no matter how gory) gets him hired to recover the two million any way he can. Anton has the means, the will and the craziness to accomplish his mission. Thus begins a deadly cat-and-mouse where the hunter, Llewelyn, becomes the hunted across the vastness of a Texas landscape.

This may not be the best of the Coen boys but it does represent a classical crime drama of good guys (well, not quite so good) and bad guys (really bad) in the guises of Llewelyn and Anton. As the pursued uses all his wiles to get away with the ill gotten loot, the pursuers stays just one step behind, relentlessly closing the ground between them. All the while, small town sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), in whose jurisdiction the opening drug-deal-gone-wrong occurred, is also on the hunt for Llewelyn.

This gritty and violent crime drama shows the love the Coens have for the genre. It helps that they chose to adapt the novel by Cormac McCarthy and recruit master lenser Roger Deakins to give his keen to eye photographing the starkly beautiful Texas vistas. The rest of the credits are first rate (especially Bardem’s haircut). This is a film that, while not great, is very good and a pleasure to watch as it twists and turns to its expectedly unexpected conclusion.

Acting is first rate; Josh Brolin would garner much praise for his smart turn as a man out of his element. That is, if it were not for the outrageous, dead on performance as the sociopath killer played by Javier Bardem. It is one of the actor’s best and most memorable performances and it resonates in your head long after seeing the film. Tommy Lee Jones gives his patent character perf as the disillusioned sheriff whose chase is littered with the bodies left by Anton in his hunt for Llewelyn. Other characters are well played by the competent supporting cast, which includes Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald and Tess Harper.

No Country for Old Men” is a good-looking, well-acted crime yarn that, while not for the tweenies out there, will find a more mature audience looking for quality entertainment at the theater (and beyond). Beware to the squeamish: there is lots of graphic violence and bloodshed. The Coen brothers, once again, prove they are an American asset to film. I give it a B+.

Laura: 

'It's a mess, ain't it sheriff?' 'It'll do until the mess that follows.'

When Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones, "The Fugitive," "In the Valley of Elah") and his deputy Wendell (Garret Dillahunt, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford") come across the corpse strewn mayhem left in the wake of a drug deal gone bad in the Texas desert, he knows that the trail the crime will take him on will prove his conviction that the time he now lives in is "No Country for Old Men."

Writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen ("Blood Simple," "Fargo," "The Ladykillers") adapt iconic author Cormac McCarthy's ("All the Pretty Horses") novel with the unmistakable Coen touch - outstanding production values, terrific acting, drama leavened - this time barely - by touches of humor.  "No Country for Old Men" is more "Miller's Crossing" than "Fargo," cinematographer Roger Deakins shooting "Blood Simple's" Texas clime through the heated palette of his "O Brother."

Sheriff Bell was not the first to discover the scene.  That would be Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, "Grindhouse," "American Gangster"), a blue collar welder out for some hunting, lured by a limping dog.  He finds a circle of pickups, many dead bodies, human and canine, and one barely living Mexican begging for some 'agua.' He also finds a case full of hundreds and quickly returns to his trailer park, insisting that his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald, "Trainspotting," HBO's "The Girl in the Café," intriguingly and well cast), lay low with her mother while he goes on the run from those that will surely follow.  However, in an odd fit of conscience, Moss returns to the scene of the crime carrying a jug of water, only to witness the arrival of the second wave of dealers, the suits, who promptly take chase armed with SUVs and dogs (Deakin's shooting during magic hour for this scene is literally breathtaking - the man should receive dual nominations for this and his work on "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford").  Miraculously, he gets away, but there is a killer far more ominous on his horizon and a cat and mouse game of dizzying action and suspense ensues.

We were introduced to Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, "Before Night Falls," "The Sea Inside") earlier, as Tommy Lee Jones talked about the loss of the old ways of the west.  After strangling an officer sent to transport him to a higher security prison with his handcuffs, Chigurh blithely takes off in a cruiser, pulls over a senior citizen and dispatches him with an air gun usually used to slaughter cattle.  (Chigurh seems to take special pleasure going after the unsophisticated, good-natured middle American, as will be seen later, when, in the film's best scene, he toys with a gas station owner.)  Moss knows he's up against something pretty heavy, but what he doesn't know is that the bag he is running with is loaded with a transponder signaling his presence to Chigurh's receiver, yet he manages to keep one sweaty step ahead of the psychopath for a long, long time.  Meanwhile, Bell follows Moss, more to protect him from what is about to befall him than to bring him in and a city suit (Stephen Root, "Office Space," "The Ladykillers") dispatches smooth talkin' Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson, TV's "Cheers," "A Prairie Home Companion") to follow Chigurh to their cash.

While most of the Coens's latest, and certainly best since "Fargo," is bracingly of its time and place, shot through with white heat tension, sweaty cowboy brims and oddly dainty, dagger-pointed cowboy boots, the decision to have a major character meet his fate off camera takes quite a bit of wind out of its pounding momentum.  Yes, the film's returned to its early reveries with the weight of experience, but we still feel cheated, having invested so much in gaining it. Still Tommy Lee Jones is the perfect guide for this sordid tale and the way his last surprised words are quickly cut to black provide a final jolt to the system (not unlike the end of that final "Sopranos" episode).  As usual, original music by Carter Burwell ("A Simple Plan," "Miller's Crossing," "The Ladykillers"), who has scored the bulk of the Coens's oeuvre, is pitch perfect.

The Coens and Deakins do extraordinary work here, not only in the beauty of Deakins's lighting, but with the visual cues - reflections in a TV, a motel floor plan, the head or tail of a quarter - they use to tie the hunters and hunted's crossed paths together.  The actors are all terrific, with Bardem's bowl-cut killer an obvious supporting actor nominee - the guy is chilling and relentless, never more so than when he seems to be considering something like mercy.  Brolin's had a hell of a year and his Llewelyn Moss is a cut-above-the-ordinary guy who seizes a brass ring and hangs on for dear life.  His brushes with Bardem are suspenseful, but the actor's most interesting when he's negotiating with the everymen he meets in between.  Tommy Lee Jones is also on a roll, and while his work in the far less successful "Elah" perhaps surpasses this, I cannot imagine anyone but Jones applying just the right mix of amusement, sadness and ultimately horror to his world weary Sheriff.  Garret Dillahunt rolls off of his solid work in "Jesse James" to spin a different bit of simplemindedness, the goofy straight man for Jones's wry observations.  Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald seems like left of field casting, but she amazes with her good little old Texas gal that shows surprising depths. Beth Grant ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Factory Girl") is a pip as Moss's unadmiring mother-in-law.  Barry Corbin ("In the Valley of Elah") epitomizes the titular old men in the film's pre-coda and Tess Harper's ("Tender Mercies," "Loggerheads") Loretta Bell gives the Sheriff a fine reason to retire.

"No Country for Old Men" is an elegy for an American way of life that may make liberals side with the old El Paso Sheriff who bemoans today's youth with their drugs and green hair.  It's a Texan lament not heard since "The Last Picture Show."

A- 

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