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Saturday, November 10, 2007

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men, the new offering of the Coen Brothers, is a brutal nihilistic western in the tradition of Sam Pekinpah. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. It begins the way many westerns begin: a wide pan across the desolate west Texas landscape. A voiceover from Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tells us a story about a fourteen-year-old serial killer he apprehended. As this narrative paints a vivid picture, we are introduced to an even more brutal criminal: the sociopathic Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem with a bizarre pageboy haircut). Chigurh has lost a great deal of money with a drug deal gone awry and he is seeking it out with the use of a silenced shotgun and a tank of compressed air (for sinister reasons revealed later in the film). He is quiet, unflappable and, it seems, absolutely unstoppable. He is after Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a smart and savvy retired welder who stumbles upon the money in the desert. He plays a game of cat and mouse with Chigurh, who never seems to doubt himself as the final, terrifying figure of retribution. Chigurh is positive that he will get what he believes is rightfully his. Chigurh adheres strictly to a confusing but consistent moral system all his own. As his bounty hunter (Woody Harelson) puts it in the film: "He has his principles."

No Country for Old Men is a great crime drama and western all rolled into one, but it is also a great film. The Coens take McCarthy's dialogue and adapt it for the screen with perfection. The photography by Roger Deakins is stunning. Once again, the Coens use a perfect cast (made possible by veteran casting director Ellen Chenoweth). Bardem surely deserves an Oscar nod for his capacity to channel sheer evil. Jones is great, as always, as the jaded sheriff. Finally, Brolin, whose character acting has long gone underrated, gives the performance of his life with his wry, understated turn as Llewelyn. The Coens have made their west Texas Fargo--No Country for Old Men is as good of a film as they have ever produced, and it is sure to gain praise from the Academy next march.


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