The Coen brothers make their finest thriller since Fargo
with a restrained adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, but No Country for Old Men
is their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day Western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam veteran who needs a break. One morning while hunting antelope, he spies several trucks surrounded by dead bodies (both human and canine). In examining the site, he finds a case filled with $2 million. Moss takes it with him, tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for awhile, and hits the road until he can determine his next move. On the way from El Paso to Mexico, he discovers he's being followed by ex-special ops agent Chigurh (an eerily calm Javier Bardem). Chigurh's weapon of choice is a cattle gun, and he uses it on everyone who gets in his way--or loses a coin toss (as far as he's concerned, bad luck is grounds for death). Just as Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a World War II veteran, is on Moss's trail, Chigurh's former colleague, Wells (Woody Harrelson), is on his. For most of the movie, Moss remains one step ahead of his nemesis. Both men are clever and resourceful--except Moss has a conscious, Chigurh does not (he is, as McCarthy puts it, "a prophet of destruction"). At times, the film plays like an old horror movie, with Chigurh as its lumbering Frankenstein monster. Like the taciturn terminator, No Country for Old Men
doesn't move quickly, but the tension never dissipates. This minimalist masterwork represents Joel and Ethan Coen and their entire cast, particularly Brolin and Jones, at the peak of their powers. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
With No Country for Old Men
, the Coen Brothers have found a perfect match in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy. Their adaptation of McCarthy's praised novel is a staggering masterpiece. In this almost impossibly faithful adaptation, the film takes place in a small Texas border town in 1980. Sheriff Bell (a never-been-better Tommy Lee Jones) has ruled the land for years without the use of a gun, but a new brand of reckless lawlessness has taken over his town. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is an innocent Everyman with a devoted wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), but when he stumbles across a drug deal gone deadly and finds two million dollars, he's determined to keep it for himself. There's only one problem. He's being pursued by one of the most amoral, evil psychopaths that the big screen has ever seen. Wearing an absurd haircut and brandishing a pressurized weapon that's used to murder cattle, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) creeps forward on his mission to track Moss down and return the money to its rightful owners to save his own skin. As the tension mounts, the body count begins to rise, confirming Sheriff Bell's inability to battle this new wave of modern brutality.
The most striking thing about the Coen Brothers' thriller is their masterly use of silence to create an almost unbearable level of tension. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is once again at the top of his game, beautifully capturing this stark and lonely world. The well-rounded cast is clearly excited to be a part of such a stellar production--particularly Bardem, whose Chigurh is a freakishly mysterious monster, and is certain to haunt viewers long after the final credit has rolled. In a career filled with striking achievements, this might very well be the Coen Brothers' finest. It is film-making at its best.