Time: 122 Minutes
Age Rating: Graphic violence
Tommy Lee Jones as Ed Tom Bell
Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh
Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss
Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells
Kelly Macdonald as Carla Jean Moss
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
In rural Texas, welder and hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers the remains of several drug runners who have all killed each other in an exchange gone violently wrong. Rather than report the discovery to the police, Moss decides to simply take the two million dollars present for himself. This puts the psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), on his trail to retrieve the money. As Moss desperately attempts to keep one step ahead, the blood from this hunt begins to flow behind him with relentlessly growing intensity as Chigurh closes in. Meanwhile, the laconic Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) blithely oversees the investigation even as he struggles to face the sheer enormity of the crimes he is attempting to thwart.
The Coen Brothers are a little hit or miss for me, some of their movies I love, others I don’t like as much as everyone. Out of all of their films however, No Country for Old Men seems to stand out as one of their best, it actually may well be their best. Everything is so well crafted, from its atmosphere and tone, the fantastic performances and of course the Coen Brothers’ excellent writing and direction, all of it come together to deliver a masterpiece.
No Country for Old Men is based off the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, I haven’t read it so I don’t know how the two versions of the story compare. No Country for Old Men isn’t like some of the other Coen Brothers movies, it doesn’t have quirky characters or quite a lot of dark comedy, this is by far the darkest movie they have made. There are very small bits of comedy (mostly in some bits of dialogue) but for the most part, it is a very dark and grim plot. The film has a realistic dark tone and isn’t filled with a lot of thrills or action. You really need to understand what you’re getting into before watching this movie, it is not by any means a fast paced crime thriller. The pacing is a little slower than you’d think, making the 2 hour runtime feel a little longer than it actually is. This didn’t bother me at all, I loved how the movie took its time, and the pacing only made some of the seemingly standard scenes with not much going on more tense. Actually re-watching it recently, the pacing wasn’t that slow, but it could be for people who think that the movie is a fast paced thriller. Nonetheless, I was actually quite entertained by the movie and from start to finish I was completely invested in what was going on. It helped that the plot as a whole is actually pretty simple and straightforward but at the same time there’s a lot to dissect thematically. Without spoiling anything, some people do have issues with the way certain things end in the third act, even if they like the rest of the movie. This is mostly to do with the way that one character’s storyline is ended and what is shown (or rather, what’s not shown), as well as the somewhat abrupt last scene. The ending is divisive, even to people who like the movie overall. I can understand people finding it to end way too abruptly and being a little disappointed, underwhelmed and most of all unsatisfied with the scene it ends on, but personally it worked for me. The last scene involves a monologue that you have to sort of interpret its meaning for yourself, given all the themes in the movie, and I’ll just say that it made sense plot-wise and thematically. The whole third act goes in a different direction than most movies with this kind of genre has, and that could turn some people off. Thankfully, I’m not one of those people.
There are some really great performances here, and it helps that the characters are simple, yet well realised. Josh Brolin is also really good as Llewyn Moss, the man who finds some money and is pursed by dangerous people. It may well be one of his best performances. Tommy Lee Jones is used sparingly in this movie as Tom Bell, a sheriff hunting down Anton Chigurh but is used well, very subtle and great performance. Bell is coming to terms with overwhelming forces and changes in his life, and that story arc and development by the end of the movie is one of the most essential parts of the film (and that’s where the title of the movie is relevant). However, the performance which gets the most attention is of course from Javier Bardem, who is absolutely fantastic as Anton Chigurh, the hitman hired to go after Moss and retrieve the money. He is just so subtle and such an dangerous force to be reckoned with, he just doesn’t seem human at all. When he’s on screen, you’re not exactly sure what he’s going to do next. There is such a mystery and ambiguity to him and we don’t really know too much about him as a person, however he doesn’t feel one dimensionally evil or flat either. There is much speculation on whether he’s just a sociopathic hitman, an angel of death, Death himself, there are tons of theories on him. Whatever the case, in this movie Chigurh completely embodies evil that can’t be understood, which is why we don’t know much about him, if he’s a human being with an explanation for why he is the way he is, the characters certainly aren’t going to know about it.
The Coen Brothers’ usually direct their films really well, and No Country for Old Men is no exception. Roger Deakins does the cinematography to this movie, so its no surprise that the film looks great, it is shot with a very gritty and darkly realistic look to it and all around looks beautiful. The violence can come out of nowhere and is portrayed in a shocking way, being rather explosive and graphic. Also adding to the realistic feel is the lack of music, there’s no music played throughout the entirety of the movie (except for one sound effect used in the coin toss scene), in fact the only song you hear is over the end credits. This makes the sound effects even more present, making the atmosphere even more absorbing. Characters could be doing standard, mundane things, but you’re even more drawn to what they are doing. Speaking of which, the sound design is absolutely fantastic, it helps draw us further into the movie.
No Country for Old Men is by far my favourite movie from the Coen Brothers. With their riveting writing and fantastic direction, excellent performances from everyone and the grim and realistic tone throughout, it just really gets everything right. Its slower pacing and the direction of where they took the story made it even better, even though it may turn some people off. I really do think it’s worth checking out for yourself, it’s well deserving of all the acclaim.