NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Enters The Classic Coen Bros. Canon – Just Don’t Call It A Comeback

Cormac McCarthy: MILLER’S CROSSING is in that category. I don’t want to embarrass you, but that’s just a very, very fine movie.

Joel Coen: Eh, it’s just a damn rip-off.

– Time Magazine Oct. 18th, 2007 (A Conversation Between Author Cormac McCarthy And The Coen Brothers)

It has been a while since Joel and Ethan Coen unleashed a movie that really made an impact. Their last offerings – THE LADYKILLERS (2004), INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003), and a personal favorite of mine – THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) all had their fair share of merits and moments but you’d have to reach back to O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU (2000) to cite any serious seismic blip on the pop culture radar. Even during this supposed down-time they never had a critically lambasted failure or did anything resembling “jumping the shark” so the held belief was they would check in with another masterpiece someday in the future. Well the day has now come with the instant classic that is:

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dirs. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, 2007)

A more faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel could not be imagined. There are a few transitional dialogue and setting embellishments but the bulk of this film is directly, word for word, from the brilliant book. In the vast plains of Rio Grande, Texas in 1980, Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss – a poor Vietnam vet who one day when out hunting antelopes comes across a slew of dead bodies, a large surplus of heroin, and a satchel containing over 2 million dollars. He takes the satchel and returns to his wife (Kelly Macdonald) at his trailer park home but wakes in the middle of the night with what he himself recognizes as a “dumber than Hell” compulsion to return to the crime scene. Soon to be on his trail is what can only be described as a completely evil man – Chigurh (Javier Bardem). With an odd Prince Valiant-style haircut and a never ceasing confidence, Chigurh uses a cattle gun to kill just about anyone who gets in his way throughout the film (usually through the forehead) and it also comes in handy to blow out door locks. “What is this guy supposed to be, the ultimate bad-ass?” – Moss even asks Carson Wells (a smooth Woody Harrelson) – yet another man on the trail of the money.

As Sherriff Bell and a sort of narrator in his grizzled though still whimsical monologues Tommy Lee Jones tries to make sense of these new violent times. He never appears surprised by each new bloody development – he takes it all in with a jaded shrugging sigh. Though many of the stylistic devices have been used and reused by the Coen Brothers before (the roadside murders, the seedy hotels, etc.) amidst the shoot-outs, chases and scary darkness there are waves of fresh subtleties that they hadn’t explored before. The quirky everyday folk that reside in little general stores out in the middle of nowhere might have provoked ridicule before in such Coen classics as RAISING ARIZONA, FARGO, and O BROTHER but this time out I found the audience around me were tittering around – almost afraid to laugh at these people. Like Chigurh – who one character refers to as a man “without a sense of humor” seems to know all too well is that their fates, whether by his hands or by natural destiny, aren’t that funny.

More later…


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