By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Another fascinating and unpredictable character-driven movie from the Coen brothers.
I went into No Country For Old Men only knowing that everyone has been talking about how excellent it is, but not really knowing too much about the plot. As it turns out, it was different from even what little I thought I knew about it.
Going into a film by the Coen brothers you always know that you’re going to get some interesting characters and an unconventional story, and it’s no different here. No Country For Old Men is all about the characters and as far as story goes, it’s one of those films that you really can’t predict what’s going to happen next.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Ed Tom Bell, a sheriff in a small Texas town who is the third generation in his family to hold that position. He’s been a sheriff for a very long time and you can tell that his laid back style (and that of prior era sheriffs) no longer fits with what’s going on in the world of crime today. Along with a younger deputy, he comes across a scattered crime scene that is what remains of a major drug/money exchange gone terribly bad.
Prior to the sheriff’s involvement, Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) has come across this scene the day before and ends up walking away with $2 million in cash. Of course we realize that someone will come looking for this money, but we are unprepared for the calm, cold Anton Chigurh (played with an eerie quiet by Javier Bardem). This character is no doubt destined for movie infamy, and almost seems like he was lifted from a Quentin Tarantino film.
Moss however, is no pushover. Our introduction to him shows him to be a cool and methodical character himself (he is a Vietnam vet) and despite the danger he is determined that he and his wife end up with the money.
Basically the movie is the intertwining of three stories: Moss’, Sheriff Bell and Anton. It’s less about Moss getting away with the money or Anton finding it than it is about getting to really know these characters. Really that’s the highlight of film and the story (much like defenders of ABC’s TV series Lost) is simply there to support the characters and not the other way around. However it works much better here than it does on that show.
Right from the start I appreciated the skill of the Coen brothers, with the film having one of the slowest moving openings that I can recall ever seeing, while simultaenously NOT being the least bit boring. Neat trick, that.
The movie is quite violent, sometimes in suprising ways, with Anton dispatching at least one victim in a way worthy of James Bond flick IMHO.
If there was anything I didn’t like, it was the basically defeatist attitude the film took towards drug-related crime (perhaps it was just realistic?), the way it seemed to become very disjointed at the very end and the fact that it just stops abruptly without what you would conventionally call “an ending.” When the credits suddenly appeared an audible groan actually arose from the audience.
On the other hand, while I didn’t find the destination satisfying, the trip itself was well worth it.
The traditional Coen humor was sprinkled here and there and acting was all around fantastic: Tommy Lee Jones let out his inner cowboy even more than usual and Josh Brolin was great straddling the line between an ordinary guy and a vet calling up his experience in battle. Javier Bardem was creepy and very low key insane.
However the insertion of Woody Harrelson into the movie almost took me out of it. He’s not in it long and it almost seems like he’s just in the movie because he’s friends with the Coen brothers and they decided to write a small part for him
No Country For Old Men is also great for post-viewing conversation: Several story points are left less than completely answered and you can debate with your friends what really ended up happening with certain aspects of the film.
If you’re a fan of Coen brothers’ past efforts like Fargo and Blood Simple you’re really going to enjoy this. And if you’re not familiar with those, it’s well worth checking out as an introduction to their style of film making.