I don’t know about the rest of you reading this but I’ve come by my love of The Coen Brothers honestly. I’ve been a fan of theirs ever since I saw 1984’s “Blood Simple” during its original theatrical run. I had even seen 1985’s “Crimewave” in a 42end Street grindhouse. But most people didn’t notice them until 1987’s “Raising Arizona” which probably was their first major mainstream hit. And rightfully so. Even today in TV series like “My Name Is Earl” you can see the influence of “Raising Arizona”. They continued their amazing career with one of the best crime/gangster movies ever made: “Miller’s Crossing” which I think is a masterpiece. 1991’s “Barton Fink” is probably the best movie ever made about a writer and writing. I don’t hold “Fargo” or “The Hudsucker Proxy” as highly. Especially “Fargo” which outside of the performances of Frances McDormand, William H. Macy and the always wonderful Steve Buscemi is actually kinda dull. I like 2000’s “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” much better but right now we’re talking about a movie that I think brings The Coen Brothers right back to the pulp/noir roots they started out with in “Blood Simple”: NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.
Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunting deer in the 1980 West Texas outlands when he stumbles across a collection of cars and dead men. After an inspection of the horrifying scene he finds that one truck is loaded down with drugs. The driver of the truck is still alive even though he’s been shot to splinters. Moss leaves him and follows a set of tracks to another man who died while trying to get away with a satchel filled with two million dollars. Moss takes the money and if he had never had an attack of conscience later on that night he would have gotten clean away with it. He goes back to the massacre site with water for the last guy left alive and there he’s jumped by a gang of Mexicans looking to get back both the drugs and the money. Moss barely escapes. But only for the time being. Moss has to leave his truck and he knows that anybody coming across it will be able to find him. He sends his wife Carla Jean (Kelly McDonald) away to her mother’s house while he goes on the run with the money. Pursued by not only the Mexican mob but by the terrifying hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) whose preferred weapons of choice are a silenced shotgun and a captive bolt pistol (which is normally used for killing cattle) as well as by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) whose only concern is to save Moss’s life.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a terrific example of the noir/pulp genre of movie that just doesn’t get made much anymore and even if it does, unless you’ve got guys like The Coen Brothers who know the genre like a monkey knows coconuts just isn’t done right. Right from the first scene where we see shots of the country while Tommy Lee Jones voiceover describes how things have changed. Tommy Lee Jones goes a helluva long way to selling the reality of the movie. Mr. Jones was born and raised in Texas so his every word and action reeks of authenticity. It’s always a pleasure watching Mr. Jones work and he does amazing work here.
Josh Brolin has had a remarkable run lately. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is the third movie in a row I’ve seen him in and in those three movies he’s become one of my favorite actors. In “Planet Terror” he did a great impression of the 1980’s Nick Nolte and in “American Gangster” he held his own on the screen alongside heavyweights Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe with style and professionalism. He does the same here in this movie. His Llewellyn Moss isn’t a bad or evil man. He’s not even a particularly bright one. But he sees an opportunity that comes along and he wants to take it. When you see this movie ask yourself if in the same position you wouldn’t do the same. Moss lives in a trailer with a wife who plainly loves him but is about as bright a Brillo pad. But Moss loves her to death and sees this money as a way to make a better life for both of them. Josh Brolin really impresses me because in all three movies I’ve seen him in, all three characters are separate and different. He’s not just running the same ticks and quirks. In all three movies he’s actually playing three totally different characters. And his performance here is great.
I don’t have to tell you about Javier Bardem’s performance in this movie because you’ve probably heard and read enough about it. It’s enough for me to say that I think his Anton Chigurh is going to go down in movie history as one of the greatest villains on screen. It’s kind of amusing that his last name is pronounced ‘sugar’ which has to be explained several times during the story, providing a bit of black humor such as the scene where a rival bounty hunter looking for the money (Woody Harrelson) tries to explain to Moss the nature of Anton Chigurh. I will say that Bardem has a fantastic scene with a storekeeper where he flips a coin and bets the man’s fate on the toss of that coin. Bardem would make a terrific Harvey Dent/Two-Face based on just that scene as he explains to the bewildered storekeeper exactly how that coin traveled from 1958 to get to that moment where it would decide his fate.
The dialog in this movie is among the best I’ve ever heard in recent movies and I’m really glad we have filmmakers like The Coen Brothers who appreciate well written dialog and how it can do what it’s supposed to do: advance the plot. Reveal and enhance character. Provide vital information we as the audience need to know. The dialog in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN does all that and due to the skill of the actors does even more than that.
Like all great crime/noir thrillers NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN just isn’t about violence. It’s about the choices we make that lead us to our fates. It’s about what we make of our lives. It’s about why people do the things they do, for bad or for good. And how they don’t think what they do is bad or good. They simply do what they have to do and they live or die by what they do. It’s an extraordinary film on all counts: acting, directing, writing, cinematography. And it ends in a way that some people might find frustrating but I found extremely fitting. And if you’re in the right frame of mind I think that when you get to the end credits you’ll discover as I did that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN isn’t about the money at all. It never was.