Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

As I get home from the ‘No Country for Old Men’ screening my wife asks me what it was about.  I tell her in a nutshell that it’s a rather unpleasant film about a guy who finds two million dollars in drug money in the desert and it’s pretty much all downhill from there.  My wife, who is a very gentle woman, supposes that it sounds a lot like Sam Raimi’s ‘A Simple Plan’ which she considers possibly the most unpleasant movie she’s ever seen.  To that I had to reply, “Baby, ‘No Country for Old Men’ makes ‘A Simple Plan’ look like ‘Finding Nemo’”. 

In Southwest Texas in 1980 Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out in the desert plains poaching deer.  He sees an injured pitbull limping off in the distance which would have meant nary a damn thing to me, but a man who frequents these areas knows quite well that a dog that well kept didn’t just wander out that way and had to come from somewhere close by.  What Moss stumbles upon is a drug deal gone terribly wrong with a scene littered with dead bodies, dead dogs and a little further down the way two million in drug tainted loot attached to another dead dude.  So what does one do?  Moss makes off with the loot.

Unfortunately there’s somebody else looking for the loot.  Well actually there’s a ton of people looking for the loot, but one person in particular who is the subject of interest in this film.  He goes by the name Chiguhr (Javier Bardem) and has already made his presence felt in this sleepy area by strangling a sheriff’s deputy, piercing some random motorist skull with a gas powered air rod without even a second thought, and generally being a very unsociable type of character that those in this friendly southwest town aren’t quite used to. 

Things have quickly gotten incredibly hot for Moss and his money, causing him to send his wife Carla Jean (Kelly McDonald) to stay with her mother while he figures a way to save his own life, and most importantly it would seem, keep the money.  There is a lawman on the case, more or less, in the aging Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who seems to halfway want to figure out what’s going on, and halfway just make it to retirement without getting himself killed.  But Chiguhr is a killer, he’s psychopathic, he’s damn near unstoppable and he’s not going to stop until he gets what he’s looking for.   To make matters worse he seems to have taken all of this personal for some reason.

Based on a Carmac McCarthy novel and written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen who have a lengthy history directing stark brutal crime pictures, ‘No Country for Old Men’ is the Coen’s finest picture since the landmark ‘Fargo’ back in 1996.  Earlier I termed this movie unpleasant and I use that because there is so much wrought tension throughout this film that you can never become comfortable watching it.  The tension that permeates through this thing is unrelenting.  That’s not to say this is some kind of fast paced action picture, when it’s nothing of the sort, however the Coens’ have managed to create scenes that are stark and barren and are infused with complete and total dread.  A lot of this is effect comes by way of their brilliant use of sound, or lack thereof.  You won’t hear a single note of music in the film, not until well after the closing credits roll.  What you will hear are footsteps, opening doors, blowing winds, rolling thunder clouds and other ambient noises which further heighten the intensity of what you’re watching. 

However I don’t think reading McCarthy’s book should be required to understand some of the basics about the narrative.  For instance I am unsure as to whom Chiguhr was working for in the first place, and what was the deal with this shadowy organization which sent one Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) to retrieve or terminate Chiguhr was all about.  Considering that this was such a large part of the story, a little background info would have been nice.  There were niggling instances vagueness which bothered me a bit, but none of this took away from the core of the film.  The ending may also cause some consternation for some, as it did in the screening I attended because the film doesn’t conclude in a way that we Americans who have been watching American movies for the majority of our lives, like to our movies to end.    Personally I thought the conclusion was in line with the narrative and as such served to make a film that was already unpleasant even more so.

There are fantastic performances all around in ‘No Country for Old Men’ and singling out one single actor would be doing the entire cast a disservice.  From the lead characters to even the minor characters appeared in only a single scene, they all worked seamlessly within films the landscape to completely sell us on the era, time and personality of the environment.

‘No Country for Old Men’ is an outstanding film, but to be fair from where I was sitting, not a very entertaining one.  As I told my wife, there was entertainment value in ‘A Simple Plan’, there was nothing but ill will coming from the screen in this movie.  If you’re entertained by great acting, tight direction, phenomenal cinematography, fantastic sound design and flawless editing then you will be entertained by ‘No Country for Old Men’.  But if you’re looking hope and a light at the end of a dark tunnel in your films, then keep on looking because you won’t find it here brother.

Real Time Web