Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

By Matthew Huntley

November 21, 2007

I hope Al Gore doesn't see me.

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No Country for Old Men is a film of such incalculable power it deserves its own course in film schools. Students could learn that a story's efficacy stems not from plot or trickery, but from characters' behavior. The people in this film behave not according to what's written in a screenplay, but to their essential natures. It seems incidental that a camera is filming them.

Like Cormac McCarthy's novel, the film cries out for detailed analysis, theory and open-ended discussion. I left the theater wanting to immediately talk about it, deconstruct it and watch it again one scene at at time. The filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen, provide no rationalization for what happens because they know it's what each individual makes of a movie that counts. One answer won't suffice.

This is another masterpiece from the Coen Brothers, whose best efforts deal with grave, serious subjects. They should know better to tell more stories like Blood Simple and less like O Brother Where Art Thou. Their comedies can be funny, but they're often misguided because they end up trying too hard to be clever. Not since Fargo, of which this film shares a similar air and tone,have the Coens made a film so profound, intense and deeply felt.

In a remote West Texas town, a large, brooding figure named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is arrested by a skinny deputy. At the sheriff's office, in a shot that uses depth of field to its most chilling effect, Chigurh strangles the deputy to death while displaying a look of uncompromising determination. This cannot be the first time Chigurh has murdered someone and it certainly won't be his last.


In a parallel time, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) hunts antelope along the Rio Grande and comes across a band of murdered Mexicans. A heroin deal has gone terribly wrong and all but one of the Mexicans is dead. He pleas to Llewelyn to bring him some water but Llewelyn follows a blood trail to another dead man and a satchel full of $2 million.

Chigurh was obviously connected to this massacre and meant to receive the money. He begins to hunt Llewelyn down by any means necessary. His weapon of choice is a captive bolt pistol, which we know will play a large role the moment we see it.

Investigating the murders is an old-time sheriff named Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who was perhaps the only choice for such a role. The character calls to mind Jones' other ventures into law enforcement after The Fugitive and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Bell can be considered a continuation of those two characters, only now he's slowly realizing his purpose in this small town is fading. In fact, the look on his face suggests he's uncertain he ever had any to begin with.

The film opens with a melancholy voiceover as Bell goes on about the different sheriffs from various Texas counties. He's like a grandfather whose thoughts and memories wander with each passing word.

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