One of the ten best films ever made. No Country For Old Men is the Coen Brother’s masterpiece. No small feat considering their past triumphs “Blood Simple,” “The Hudsucker Proxy,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski.” Technically flawless to be sure, but the Coen Brothers have never dug so deep before. It helps that the story source is the Cormac McCarthy novel from 2005, whom McCarthy is one of the world’s greatest authors and sociologists if I may say so. McCarthy’s Pulitizer Prize winner “The Road” from 2006 is the greatest read I’ve had in many years.
The winner of four Oscars including Best Picture, “No Country” only fashions to appear as another cops, bad guys and missing money loot genre piece, until you start recognizing author Cormac McCarthy’s bleak criticism on the decay of our contemporary world of today.
Let’s accept that the film works brilliantly on two different levels, both as thriller and as modern social dissection. The thriller: Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, “American Gangster”) is an outdoors rifle sportsman who stumbles upon numerous dead bodies, a pick-up truck load of heroin and $2 million in cash. It’s every working man’s fantasy to stumble upon a couple million in unmarked bills, but the scenario is so unbelievable to Moss that he can’t help but double-guess the situation until – let’s just say his crucial mistake is to return to the scene to wipe away finger marks or see over anything else that might lead authorities or drug runners back to him.
The situations are unbearably suspenseful. What do you do when a pack of killers are awaiting on hilltop for you to return to your car? Do you hide down below in vacant vehicles or do you run? “No Country” also has one situation which I thought I never would see but turns out to be quite believable: a man drifts downstream a river while an attack dog drifts down right after him. The man has a gun he can use on the dog, but will it work and not be clogged up after getting all wet.
The film’s purest character is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones, which was his second great Texas man performance following “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”), the one police figure who fully understands and connects the dots between the related deaths surrounding the missing drugs and money. He is benumbed by all the violence he has seen in his time or heard of. Times aren’t as peaceful as they used to be.
Not with men like Anton Chigurh walking around. Played by Javier Bardem (“Before Night Falls”), Chigurh is one of the most chilling psychopaths I’ve ever seen in a movie, a killer who uses the heads and tails of a coin flip to decide the fate of his victims. With a bushel of black hair and an off-kilter smile that insinuates evil underneath, Anton goes through a killing spree en route to the missing drugs and money with a cattle stun gun under his arm as his customary lethal weapon. Woody Harrelson (“Natural Born Killers”), arguably evil but to a definite lesser degree, is a private detective who will eventually have a run-in with Anton.
Anton’s only vulnerability is marked by whether the soles of his favorite badass cowboy boots are soiled by blood. After killing one victim, Anton becomes involved in a telephone call. The pool of blood is spreading, so he lifts up his boots and rests his legs on the bed. One crucial scene Anton walks out the front door of a home where he might have killed somebody, but the audience isn’t sure. But we know what happened when he kicks up his soles to check whether his boots have been stained.
Immersed in a cycle of chaos, where one violent incident triggers the next we become absorbed in the ceaseless constant frenzy of violence. There hasn’t been this much unrelieved suspense in a motion picture since “Straw Dogs” (1971), another entry in the pantheon of all-time great films. But let’s look past the thriller aspects because “No Country” transcends typical category genre.
Modern social dissection: Money or no money, the characters are left in a deep cycle of never-changing ways after the picture fades to black. There is an inexplicable car accident at the end of the picture that has nothing to do with the principle elements of the story. McCarthy suggests, God pre-destines our nature. The character in the car accident, by metaphysical drawing power, will always run into harsh and violent run-ins with nature continually throughout his life no matter if he’s rich or poor.
We start making assumptions at other individuals in the film at where the rest of their lives will lead – Sheriff Bell who feels he must be embroiled with work or his life will wither away into insignificance; Moss’ wife, played by Kelly Macdonald who doesn’t believe money will ever improve her. Beyond looking at the individuals you could start considering larger social cycles. The cast of characters and settings are a microcosm for what McCarthy suggests about the world entire. All of these themes arguably make the film more profound then the themes of “Citizen Kane” (1941).
The wisest exchange of dialogue takes place in a coffee shop between Jones and a sheriff of another county – two law men that have seen first-hand the worst in criminal nature. That other sheriff bemoans how young criminal behavior is spawning more anti-social behavior and shares his ideas of how social civility got all out of whack. “I knew when kids stopped greeting people by sir or ma’am.” Both men understand the changing and evolution of larger social cycles. People kill each other over money. People kill each other for the thrill of overpowering others.
Wise and true, and kind of a miracle because this particular scene is less than a minute long. The Coen Brothers, working conducive with the McCarthy source novel, was never this precise and this profound.
Read also Ten Best Films Ever Made.
122 Minutes. Rated R.
SUSPENSE / THINKING MAN’S THRILLER / MASTERPIECE VIEWING