Friday Film Focus: No Country For Old Men

The film opens to the flat, burly voice of Tommy Lee Jones. Playing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, Jones describes a time when he had to send a teenage boy to the electric chair for killing a 14-year-old girl. The newspapers said it was a crime of passion, but the boy knew the truth. The teenage boy told Sheriff Bell that he had wanted to kill for a long time...for as long as he could remember.

“Said if I let him out of there, he'd kill somebody again. Said he was goin' to hell. Reckoned he'd be there in about 15 minutes." Jones delivers this narration with such intense preciseness and contained emotion. It sets the tone for the entirety of the film. He’s afraid of a world now rooted in guns, violence, and merciless evil.

No Country for Old Men was a film adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen from Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel. This movie is a relentlessly violent 1980's Neo-Western drama set in West Texas. Sheriff Bell longs for the day in which he can retire. Currently, he's facing an evil he can no longer fathom. This evil comes in the form of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) -- a sociopathic assassin with a Beatles-esque haircut. Chigurh executes his victims with no remorse. He is a tall, slouching man with a terrifying grin. His menacing choice of weapon is a cattle stun gun. Bardem's character is a monster for the ages with a perverse sense of humor. He’ll politely ask a man to step out of his car so that it won’t get messy once he caps him in the head. Of course, no one wants to be driving a car filled with brain matter.

His conversations throughout the film are short. However much like most of the Coen brothers' films, dialogue is everything. In one of the best written scenes in the film, Chigurh enters a rundown convenience store and begins a game of word play with the old man behind the register. The man starts to become very nervous. It is clear through the subtext they are discussing whether or not Chigurh will kill him. Chigurh hasn’t made up his mind yet, but instead uses a flip of a coin to determine his fate. He doesn’t explain why -- nor does he have to.

The writing is beyond flawless -- which comes from the Coen brothers through the work of McCarthy. Chigurh is only one piece of this twisted plot. The other important character is Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a cowboy in a world with no more cowboys. Brolin plays a Vietnam vet living with his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) in a remote house trailer. While he’s out hunting one day, he stumbles across what looks like a drug deal gone bad. Moss sees a dozen dead bodies with one man barely alive begging for some water. As Moss starts investigating, he finds bags of heroin on the bed of an empty truck. He realizes one thing is missing: The money. He finds it in a briefcase next to a man who went to find shade near a tree before dying. With two-million dollars in the briefcase, Moss takes it and runs.

Brolin plays a man with such heart and integrity, and it gives him the appropriate amount of human touch the part requires. He perfectly embodies this character like a man possessed. When Moss returns to the scene of the crime to give the man some water, shots start firing. He then realizes he’s in more trouble than previously thought. After he packs up his wife and sends her to her mother, Moss goes on the run with the money in hand. Moss tries hiding in rundown obscure hotels, but Chigurh always tracks him down. He shadows him with every move and pursues him like a villain in a nightmare. Death walks hand in hand with him. As the plot deepens, we also meet a cocky bounty hunter Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson). Harrelson's character knows Chigurh inside and out. A businessman (Stephen Root) employs Carson to track down the money he invested in the drug deal. The other characters are simply bystanders and hotel clerks who are just unlucky enough to meet Chigurh.

No Country for Old Men is the masterpiece of Joel and Ethan Coen. It involves elements of good versus evil, and the tension of destiny versus self determination. The acting in this film is just as superb as the dialogue. Jones is a perfect fit for the weathered southern sheriff. Age has granted Jones stillness as a performer. He gives the film much-needed grace and steadiness within the chaos. His performance is a tour de force and is by far one of his greatest. With Bardem, he is the embodiment of evil. With his flattened Spanish accent, at times he made Chigurh almost seem inhuman. His chilling performance is magnetic. As a result, it earned him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2008. With long standing collaborators such as cinematographer Roger Deakins and music composer Carter Burwell, the Coen brothers have created an emotional vacuum drawing the audience to the next scene over and over again. To make one film feel this way is a miracle (Fargo), but to create two is utterly extraordinary.

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