No Country for Old Men (9/10)

The Coen Brothers’ latest outing is a captivating, pulse-pounding, and unabashedly dark quiet thriller, the kind where you’ll find yourself, more often than not, unintentionally holding your breath. It’s not a movie with many explosions, car chases, or gun fights. The terror and tension in this movie comes from the gritty and dark exploration into the depths of violence and its consequences, an exploration that refuses to be over the top in its analysis, but is explored almost clinically, and as a result, terrifyingly.

Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, a simple retired Texas man in 1980, who, while out one day in the vast desolate prairies of the South, almost literally stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, with dead bodies strewn amidst some bullet-ridden trucks. He tracks some blood to a corpse underneath a tree, a corpse with a case that holds 2 million dollars in cash. He grabs the cash and heads home, stashing it under his trailer, not bothering to think even for a second that he may have just gotten himself in a heap of trouble. Tommy Lee Jones plays the local sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, a wizened veteran of sorts who gets tangled up with Moss’s problems with the money. Finally, Javier Bardem plays a man who is a psychopathic killer and the very embodiment of “creepyyyyy!!”, Anton Chigurh. We never find out exactly why he’s looking for the money. He just wants it, pure and simple, and will kill anyone who shows even a hint of getting in his way. He carries an oxygen tank and a kind of compressed-air gun that leave no clues behind. Soon the chase, and that’s No Country essentially boils down to, a chase, is on.

What sets this film apart from other extremely violent ones of its ilk is not the story itself, but rather its tone, the characters, and the grisly way the Coens deal with the violence in the film. As I mentioned above, the story is basically a chase story, but man, what a heck of a chase story it is.

Bardem’s Anton Chigurh is one of the scariest villains to grace the big screen in a long while. His calm demeanor, perverse pleasure, and complete lack of a sense of humor all dehumanize him to a point that should have rendered him a boring and one-note character, but the grim sense of purpose that haunts every last decision he makes, the scary sense that you know he has a reason for everything he does, even though it may be a ludicrous one, is downright horrifying. This is an actor who could make even “hello” sound like a death threat. His eyes can rarely be described as anything other than dead, but these dead eyes convey a heck of a lot more than many alive eyes found in films today.

Tommy Lee Jones gets some of the best lines of the movie, and even though he spends a lot of it on the sidelines, he steals every scene he’s in.

Josh Brolin’s simple country man, though, is by far the most interesting of the bunch. He’s not very smart; some would even call him stupid, but, in a weird, sort of way, he knows what’s right, and he knows how to handle himself. In a couple of scenes he puts together objects that almost make him seem like MacGyver. He is resourceful and intelligent, though not in the traditional sense, and he doesn’t turn into the typical average man who becomes a superhero when he’s in danger.

The woman who plays his wife, Kelly MacDonald, has the difficult job of playing against all these fantastic actors, but in a role where it initially seems like she’s just going to be some side character, she does a remarkable job of humanizing her role and making it much more than the “wife in distress.”

The film’s script is, by far, its greatest strength. It somehow manages to expertly balance very dark humor, brutal violence, deep characters, an actually very typical storyline, and rivetingly quiet chase scenes, such as when Moss is hiding in a hotel room and hears Anton coming down the hallway to get him. The camera angles, sound effects, and slow and deliberate movement of the characters all combine to make a scene that will have you sweating buckets in a scene that, if handled improperly, could quickly turn bland and cliche. The themes explored as well are also some very interesting ones, such as the nature of violence, its effects on the human soul, the importance of honesty, the acknowledgment of the passing of time, and how life is sometimes cruelly abrupt.

The film ends on a perfect haunting and honest note, and, along with many moments throughout the movie, left me with my jaw hanging open for several minutes. It’s just simply a great movie. My only complaint would be the script makes shortcuts occasionally. Anton, sometimes, seems a little too much of a superhuman, as in one scene where he virtually disappears into the night unexplainedly, which I didn’t buy that his character would do. Another time Josh Brolin’s character is fleeing from some people who abandon the chase far too easily. Other than that, “No Country for Old Men” is a riveting thriller that is definitely worth an Oscar nomination, if not a win. It’s a movie that makes you think, and not in the sense of being so confusing that you can’t figure it all out, but the sense that it’s all laid bare on the screen and yet you STILL can’t figure it all out, and, if nothing else, that alone makes it worth a movie ticket.


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