CAPSULE: Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a thriller that actually is a thrill ride. A relentless killer stalks a man who found 2 million dollars in drug money. This is a brutal and violent film that breaks some of the rules that we expect from crime thrillers. With less plot and less dialog than most Coen Brothers films, NO COUNTRY is gripping, but it goes for the gut instead of the head. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
It is 1980 is Southwest Texas near the Mexican border. As the film opens we are listening to the voice of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) telling of some killers he has known. He is weary of his job and probably as weary of the world. He is about to be involved as one of the three key players in a deadly drama that may just push him over the edge. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out hunting when he comes on the grim remains of a drug deal that went sour. The ground is littered with the dead, human and canine. Most of the humans were holding guns when they died. The drugs are still at the scene, but what Llewelyn wants most is the money he knows had to have been there. And that is nowhere at the site. He tries tracking the money and finds one on more corpse and a case packed delightfully full of $100 bills--about 20,000 of them. Finders keepers, he reasons. But looking for the money is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Chigurh is about as dangerous as anyone can be. He kills on whim; he kills for sport; he kills anyone who can recognize him; he kills for just about any reason that seems logical to him and he has a creative mind for finding excuses to kill. He might kill over a coin toss. His smile seems friendly at first, but it is the smile of a predator going in for the kill. Chigurh wants to track down whoever has the money and will happily kill anyone who stands in his way or can help catch him afterward. Leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake brings in the Sheriff. Each of the three men seems to be fairly clever in what he does. Llewelyn has good ideas as to how to hide the money. Chigurh is good at finding it. The Sheriff is good at figuring out crime scenes. But the reptilian Chigurh seems best at getting the upper hand and most often does what is unexpected. Most puzzling is the tank of compressed gas that he carries. That too will make sense in a twisted way. It wouldn't surprise me to see tanks showing up in crime films in the future, and perhaps in real crimes.
It has been a while since the Coen Brothers have made a simple tense action film. The relentless stalking of Chigurh is reminiscent of some of the better scenes of their first film BLOOD SIMPLE. The Sheriff's ability to piece together a crime scene is reminiscent of FARGO. But Bardem's killer is as cold and ruthless as probably any screen villain we have seen. He is Hannibal Lector made opaque. He is called crazy, but there is certainly method in his killings even when he is toying with a gas station attendant. His methods prove to be believably effective through most of the film.
The Coen Brothers tell their story with what appears to be very little style. There are few frills and I remember no music until the end credits roll. This makes the tension seem more real and more immediate. The suspense carries the minimal story. Only the sheriff seems to have time for reflection. Bardem plays his role as killer with no emotion at all, unless it is with a little cold sadism. His killer is a force of nature, inscrutable and unstoppable. We get little personality from Llewelyn who spends most of the film just doing what he has to in order to stay alive. Kelly McDonald has little to do but be in danger. That she does well. Being used to a Scottish accent from her it is surprising how well she takes to talking Texan.
Through most of the film the plot can be told in one sentence or two. This is certainly not the best-plotted film the Coen Brothers have made. (My choice there would be MILLER'S CROSSING.) It is more an exercise in sustained frisson. I could admire the style and be pulled into the action, but found myself distanced from the plot itself. It is a roller-coaster ride and when it is over there is little to think about other that the unexpectedness of some of the plot twists. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0477348/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper