No Country for Old Men Review


Has there ever been a more unlikely Best Picture winner than No Country for Old Men? It’s a dark, somewhat cold picture that will confound your expectations at every turn. I’ve probably seen it about a dozen times, and I find something different to love about it each time—from the brilliant performances and incredible framing techniques, to the gutsy choices to not score the film and end things very inconclusively. From beginning to end, it’s a film full of risks, and even though I’ve never felt emotionally involved in it, I admire the film and the Coens’ work on it immensely.

On the surface, the film’s plot is pretty simple. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a simple man in South Texas who stumbles across a drug deal gone wrong. The good news in it all: He comes away with a suitcase full of $2 million. On the trail of the money, however, is Anton Chigurh, who’s as evil as they come. Equipped with his weapon of choice—a cattle gun—Chigurh isn’t afraid to dispose of anyone in pursuit of Moss and the money. The third man in the equation is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who’s dogged determination to do what’s right might just put him in serious danger.

What the plot lacks in originality (it’s a veritable road movie, really), it makes up for in complex meaning and subtext. The ending, which I still don’t fully comprehend to be honest, calls into question everything that we’ve seen. To that end, the film’s ambiguity makes it work on many different levels—a good vs. evil story, a dark Western comedy, and a twisty, suspenseful thriller.

For this film, the Coens’ have managed to assemble one of the best ensembles of any of their films. It’s not so great in terms of quantity of established actors, but each and every actor is so appropriately cast. Javier Bardem is undeniably the standout. His Anton Chigurh is a villain for the ages—so downright evil it’s not even funny. Josh Brolin plays a good everyman here, but he’s a Coen interpretation of an everyman—very cynical and not necessarily always on the up-and-up. Tommy Lee Jones is as close to an emotional through line as the film has. We like his character much more than any other because he’s a voice of goodness and morality in a morass of wickedness and bad choices. Also, he’s really funny.

I love some of the Coens’ stylistic choices, the boldest and bravest one being not to score the film. It’s about as uncommercial a move as you can make, yet folks still responded to it. Better than just being gutsy, however, it also really adds something to the film. It allows you to respond to it in your own way, without the help of musical cues. On top of that choice, the film is also showcases Roger Deakins extensive talent. The way he plays with light is absolutely masterful. In any other year, he would have walked away with a Best Cinematography Oscar (2007 was just an amazing year in that category, and it didn’t help that he was competing against his perhaps superior work in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford).

What’s most amazing about No Country for Old Men though might just be how original this film is. It’s truly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. And considering the directors are adapting a real masterpiece of modern literature, I think that’s one impressive feat.

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