No Country for Old Men
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Cormac McCarthy (novel)
Release Date: November 21, 2007 (USA)
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress
-W.B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
Times change. Violence and greed are entwined with our current society, a far cry from a simpler time when one could feel relatively safe leaving his door unlocked when night fell. Time changes nothing. The sins of man are realized today as they have always been; they are interwoven into our species, only taking different forms as the years advance.
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), sheriff of a West Texas county in the 1980s, muses on those who came before him as No Country for Old Men opens. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a member of that county and leads a life that is anything but extravagant, spending time hunting and ending his days in a trailer with his wife Carla Jean. The two men find their peace disrupted when another man, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), is found stalking the Texas landscape in search of a missing case containing a life-changing amount of money.
As a native of Texas, Jones fits into his role like a pair of worn-in leather boots. Jones has effortlessly displayed himself as a figure of authority, a lawman, in previous roles such as Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive, but his dry humor and philosophical wonderings as Bell offer more insight into the character’s thoughts as opposed to simple, visual action. It wasn’t unexpected that Jones would fulfill a complex role laid out for him; what is surprising is how convincing Brolin portrays the part of Moss. During the film I never connected Brolin to any of the characters I’ve seen him play in previous years. I accepted him immediately as Moss, a man who depends on himself to maintain his own fortune. Shots of Moss set against the Texas brush and churning sky, fittingly free of any musical accompaniment, held me captivated. Recalling Moss balancing his rifle on a dusty boot, I do not care to imagine who he would have been if Brolin had not been cast.
Chigurh, questioningly referred to as “Sugar” by Moss, has been heralded by respectable movie critics as a villainous character who is as intriguing as he is deadly. His appearance and seemingly whimsical methods of choosing death serve to alienate him from the world he inhabits. He could be a man from Mars. Wielding an unorthodox weapon that initially confuses rather than intimidates, Chigurh is indeed a sight to behold. There is not a relaxed moment when he is onscreen, even if the hapless friendos he encounters (are they “hapless?” – perhaps that question requires a coin toss) have no idea of the danger they face when they’re in Chigurh’s presence. Bardem received an Academy Award for his role as the antagonist of No Country for Old Men, a decision that’s difficult to disagree with.
A sense of foreboding hovers over the first half of the movie, which moves forward at a determined pace and finds one man on the dangerous end of a cat and mouse game. Think back to some of the more exciting moments between Tom Hanks and Jude Law in Road to Perdition to get an idea of the razors edge being walked. Moving forward, I’m compelled to address the final and controversial scene of the film. I don't mind an unexpected end, but I've never looked upon closing credits which such astonishment. But, that's an issue that may be rectified upon second viewing or after some distance from the viewing - my chief critique lies with the pacing of the latter half of the film. There are a couple of slow, philosophical moments that I was simply unprepared for, and this doesn’t feel like the kind of film that should be wound down. To make for a more even experience, the first of those moments (which I consider too much of a slowdown so late in the film) could have been placed earlier on to serve the same purpose. With that being said, I have read that No Country for Old Men is a faithful adaptation of the novel by Cormac McCarthy, and if that’s so, it’s difficult for me to argue on the side of changing the source material. The best adaptations are those that are the most faithful, though watching the film before reading the book could prove disappointing in some aspects.
I admit I was hesitant to review this film after only one viewing, feeling a need to ease some confusion with another trip to the theater. But after discussing the film with others, and pondering on it myself, I feel more comfortable writing down my thoughts. And I believe the people who appreciate No Country for Old Men the most are those who enjoy continuing to think after the credits role and are prepared to search for meaning in the art. If the Coen brothers are still an obscure reference to some moviegoers, it doesn't seem their destiny to remain that way.
4.5 Stars / 5