‘No Country for Old Men’ ***** Movie Review 020608

Book:..... Charlie Rose Interview: .......DVD:..................... Blu-ray:

The Work = *****
The best thing I can say about ‘No Country for Old Men’ is I wanted to see it again as soon as it was over. The film is a slow, careful, crime drama that has stuck with me since I first viewed it. While not what one would call a happy film, it is a joy to watch and is also easy to recommend. I will warn you though, despite some action, ‘No Country for Old Men’ is a measured film with a somber finale that may not sit well with all viewers.

Actually, that would seem to be something of an understatement as even the film’s official website links to articles discussing viewer’s reactions to the conclusion of the feature. Mine was at first confusion, then maybe disappointment, not so much with the end itself but that there would be no more of the film to see. I am not entirely sure I understood everything that transpired in ‘No Country for Old Men’ but I did like the film and do so even more thinking back on it.

It is interesting to note that along with the controversy of the ending, many seem just generally unhappy with the film as a whole (which may be a product of the unsettling conclusion). Take one such unhappy critic, Noel Megahey, at the excellent site He opens his review with this paragraph:

“Not being someone who puts a great deal of credence by the US Oscars – a huge self-congratulatory backslapping exercise that celebrates accomplished but safe traditional commercial filmmaking and encourages the perpetuation of making movies to an established award-winning formula – I didn’t take a great deal of notice of the Oscar nominations announced this week. A quick check on IMDB reveals however that No Country For Old Men received no less than eight – EIGHT - 2009 Academy Award Nominations. Confirmation, if any were needed, of the sorry state of "serious" mainstream Hollywood film. Is this pointless exercise in empty filmmaking and mindless violence really the best America can offer?” (From his review HERE.)

Ouch! Never mind that half those nominations were for technical merits, Noel writes like he was just robbed by the film. As of this review Megahey’s comments inspired five pages of debate posts below it and for all I know there will be more still. Was it the ending or simply the “pointless” nature of the film that crossed Megahey so? As I said earlier, I will not pretend to say I understood everything in ‘No County for Old Men’ but I would certainly not refer to the film as “pointless”.

‘No Country for Old Men’ chiefly follows three characters whose paths crisscross one another. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) opens the film in narration. His slow, sad, drawl sets up the tone of what will follow. Jones fits the role like a glove and it is a part the man could play in his sleep. Bell and his deputy Wendell (played by the excellent Garret Dillahunt) travel from crime scene to crime scene looking over the handiwork of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).

Chigurh is the second character ‘No Country for Old Men’ follows and his is an unflinching killer. Chigurh sweeps across the film and in some ways it becomes more noteworthy who he doesn’t kill than who he does. Bardem, who has won many accolades before, certainly deserves them again here. Playing a character that is larger than life, he somehow reigns it in and makes the homicidal Chigurh frighteningly real. I could be wrong but there appears to be some subtle make up work done on Bardem’s face, particularly around the eyes that helps give Chigurh a touch of the crazy.

Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss is the third character. while out hunting in the desert he comes across the aftermath of one serious shootout. Picking through the bodies, guns, and drugs, he finds his way to a corpse, slumped over with a gun and two million dollars in a case. Moss looks at the money and gun, mumbles an approving sound, and takes the loot and the piece. Brolin creates a man who seems not so much smart, as clever. Moss works through different tactics and as one falls apart he works out another.

How exactly Moss, Bell, and Chigurh intersect I will leave you to see in the feature but suffice it to say, no one is going to forget about two million dollars. The characters are so well drawn that I loved almost every moment of them on the screen. Moss is probably the most likeable, in part because he has the most screen time, the most wagered, and the most to lose (then again anyone who crosses Chigurh wagers all they have). Brolin, who was great as a villainous detective in ‘American Gangster’ is great again here. He has been acting for awhile now and I remember liking him in ‘Grindhouse’ but prior to that I am forced to admit the last role I remember seeing him in is ‘Hollow Man’. Here, he is wonderful and I can say a big part of why ‘No Country for Old Men’ works so well. Also deserving nods are actors are great small performances from Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, and the always entertaining Stephen Root.

Three of the keys to the success of the film are Joel and Ethan Coen and Cormac McCarthy. The Coen’s wrote and directed from McCarthy’s novel and have made a feature that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go. I cannot say how closely the film mirrors McCarthy’s novel as I have not read it. In interviews the Coen’s have talked about following the books narrative and some of the more unsettling moments are supposedly right out of the novel. The Coen’s also edited the film under a pseudonym and thereby would seem to have exercised almost complete control over what is shown on the screen. 

‘No Country for Old Men’ takes place in 1980 and manages to capture a time and place so smoothly that it may as well have been filmed then and there. This is done without the flash and flaunting that period films often seem to have. There is something amusing about picturing a Coen brother’s timeline that has the events of this film taking place six years before the more comedic and fanciful ‘Raising Arizon’ (in a way the ominous, evil, Chigurh does seem like he could be a cousin to the unstoppable biker from ‘Raising Arizona’). Then there is the shootout crime scene in ‘No Country for Old Men’ that multiple characters return to, which brings forth memories of the Coen’s excellent first feature ‘Blood Simple’. On our timeline that would be four years after the events of ‘No Country for Old Men’.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins deserves kudos for his wonderful work here. Deakins is arguably one of the best cinematographers working today (just watch some of his work on previous Coen films such as ‘The Big Lebowski’ and ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’). (He has never won an Oscar and is nominated for two this year including ‘No Country for Old Men’.) Along with the visuals, the sound work seemed spot on to me. For once in a movie a character uses a silencer and it sounds like it should: quiet with the sound of the impact almost louder than the weapon. (I have no idea if it would work on the type of weapon it is used on in the film but never mind.)

As is clear by my rambling review I loved the film but there was something that nagged at me about the concluding passages. I can’t put my finger on what exactly but I was left with an unsettling feeling. Maybe that is the point, maybe I’m feeling what I should, considering what transpires onscreen and off. For instance, character’s undoing come off screen at times and the result was an odd, sort of detached feeling. I needed time for what I missed to sink in and really that only happened after the film was long over.

I come to the end of this review and I still find details and aspects not yet mentioned. As I mentioned above, I loved the characters and didn’t want to let them go. For me, I think the film is about men stretching past their abilities and the consequences that unfold. It is one thing to strive for the unattainable, it is another to stand back and know when you are going to be outmatched. The difference in ‘No Country for Old Men’ is the difference between life and death. Highly, highly recommended.


‘No Country for Old Men’ Links:


Noel Megahey's review at DVDTimes

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