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No Country for Old Men

A 2008 movie starring Javier Bardem directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

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Going to Hell in a Hand-Basket -A Nihilistic Tale

  • Jan 11, 2008
  • by
From the first few minutes of Joel and Ethan Coen's film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, "No Country for Old Men," I was hooked. The opening scenes of the Texas hill country vaguely remind me of the golden beauty of Tuscany--a wild starkness sans the cypress trees that suggests the purity and serenity of an open landscape where from the beginning of time, men roamed simply because they wanted to and could. These men learned to manage not only the land--making it work for them in a symbiotic way where neither was destroyed and a careful reverent balance was maintained--but also and more importantly controlled the insidious evil that unfurled within this domain since the snake slithered into the Garden of Eden. As one of the triumvirate of main characters, Anton Chigurh, played with a succinct and taciturn cruelty by Javier Bardem, proves as he strangles his arresting officer with the very cuffs meant to restrain him, now darkness pervades; moral stability still lives on, albeit conditioned by what is thought to be lackadaisically acceptable for "modern" times. Most definitely, the delicate balance once barely managed has spiraled out of the control of its sentinels.

But what can be done about this rampant evil? Nothing much, it seems. We are damned if we do, and damned if we don't.

In "No Country for Old Men," the inundation of evil (call it corruptness, depravity, immorality . . .whatever) that began with less dramatically insistent indicators like the absence of manners--no longer requiring the respectful usage of `sir' and `ma'am'--or the breakdown of appropriate dress--eyesores like wearing green hair and piercing bones in one's nose--has accelerated to an intensity level where drug deals, bloody carnage and murders are commonplace. The infringement of this darker tolerance brings with it a Pandora's box of latter day plagues that symbolically battle-worn lawmen like Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) attempt to clamp shut--with limited success. One gets the sense of an overwhelming encroachment of all things bad--things that after awhile seem tame only through the conditioning of what we are told is acceptable. Indeed, Bell knows that monsters like Chigurh are legion; wearing a marked world-weary grimace of frustration and futility on his face, he regrets, as his retirement looms, that time has outdated his methods and has matured him into the role of commentator rather than activator. His hopes and aspirations lie now only in a field of dreams in which he must eventually awaken.

In sharp contrast to Bell's caricature of the quintessential onlooker, Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin)--his brash economy of motion belies his way lesser rank in the war between good and evil stalks the Texas hills with the easy nonchalant grace of the antelope he hunts. Happening upon a drug deal gone wrong and the ultimate riches-of-the-city temptation--a valise filled with money that could enrich his life with his pretty little wife (Kelly Macdonald) 2.4 million-fold, he catapults into a plan that Sheriff Bell realizes from afar will take him down. Most of the film's action follows Moss as he attempts to outsmart the devil incarnate (the tenacious Bardem sporting a haircut reminiscent of a dark-side 70s Gerard Depardieu and his weapon of choice--a nasty little dehumanizing compressed-air-mechanized stun gun used to kill cattle.) Minor characters pop up like targets in an arcade shooting game--mere examples of the genuine coldness of this killer and the Coen brothers' penchant for over-the-top, gory, eye-popping brutality that almost desensitizes the audience like an overexposure to the horrific behavior of Hannibal Lecter in the three Thomas Harris inspired films.

Not only do the Coen brothers enjoy a good blood bath, they take pleasure in bitter twists of irony. Greed motivates the good guy--Moss fights tooth and nail to keep tainted money and jeopardize his wife's security--while a bald honesty holds bad guy Chigurh in check; the strange Anton allows his victims a choice by which he religiously stands. Oddly, for him, a promise made becomes a promise kept.

In terms of performance, the workings of all three of the major roles here border on what seems an effortless genius. In particular, Bardem enthralls each and every time he enters a scene wielding that oxymoronic brand of macabre attraction and repulsion is reminiscent of Anthony Hopkin's skill in portraying the murderous cannibal in "The Silence of the Lambs." Brolin forges headfirst--his would-be sheep-for-the-slaughter a veritable thinking machine of non-stop action. Jones brings all his wryness to this role--the character Bell seems written specifically to display the adeptness of his acting ability.

Bottom line? "No Country for Old Men" is not intended for a general audience--so parents think twice about bringing children into the theatre to see this one. The images of bloody brutality come swiftly with little warning--I spent much of the time squeezing my eyes shut to avoid the virtual spatter of blood. Otherwise, the film, seemingly an allegory for the eternal battle between good and evil extends beyond the obvious clouding over with nihilistic predetermination while presenting a world where conditioning to the nastier aspects of life renders all that blood-letting mere accoutrements meant to entertain rather than horrify. Fascinating and highly recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren

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More No Country for Old Men reviews
review by . May 02, 2011
This movie is probably the Coens at the height of their moviemaking prowess, even though this isn't my favourite overall of their movies. That title still belongs to The Big Lebowski. However, I do think this is the best Coen drama, girded by exceptionally strong performances and a simple but enthralling premise. That guided by the Coen brothers' steady directing makes No Country For Old Men a definite must-see and a fitting entry into their collection. It's also very worthy of winning …
review by . March 26, 2008
Wow. Great movie. I saw this movie at the Rialto in Raleigh, NC, which is worth a trip in itself as an old school "movie palace". The lobby is about the size of my kitchen at home, just enough room for a concession stand, then double doors open directly into the big theatre with a concrete floor sloping down to the big screen on a real stage. Stepping through those double doors is a 50-year step backwards, but the place looks like it has been recently renovated as the floor is clean, the seats are …
review by . May 30, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
      NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN       I don't know about you but I have always been a huge fan of the Coen Brothers Joel and Ethan, I have liked every film the two have put together. This is no exception and is just another classic in a long list of classics, both theatrically and on DVD this is a brilliant film. I can honestly say that a lot of the time I do not agree with the winners or even the nominees chosen by the Academy for the Oscar but they got it right …
review by . July 01, 2011
While it's very easy to trace comparisons between this film and prior Coen projects, such an exercise seems almost trivial when one considers that this story was adapted from one of Cormac McCarthy's most accessible novels. It's comforting to note that the Coens have found a story compatible with their usual trademarks: dialogue characterized by a regional vernacular, eccentrics who both voice and embody the story's themes and a measured pace interjected by bizarre scenes of intense …
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
This movie takes patience, and requires interpreting. If you're not interested in having to think through what the movie is trying to say, it will just seem like one damn thing after another.
Quick Tip by . December 28, 2010
"The Terminator" in Texas...    Somehow I have to make 50 characters here.
review by . July 11, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Josh Brolin as Lewllon Moss
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is a good sheriff.  He can put together a crime scene and get in touch with who he needs to.  Never gets hurt and does a good job keeping the peace.  One day though an ugly and violent crime is enough to put him out to pasture.  It was enough to make him realize how just like all those disgusting crimes across the country he only read about in newspapers, has finally come home to West Texas.  Towards the end of his tenure as Sheriff, an old friend of …
Quick Tip by . June 08, 2010
CRAZY but so incredibly good. Watched it in my criminology class.
review by . September 06, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty-five years old. Hard to believe. My grandfather was a lawman; father too. Me and him was sheriffs at the same time; him up in Plano and me out here. I think he's pretty proud of that. I know I was. Some of the old time sheriffs never even wore a gun. A lotta folks find that hard to believe. Jim Scarborough'd never carry one; that's the younger Jim. Gaston Boykins wouldn't wear one up in Camanche County. I always liked to hear about the oldtimers. Never …
Quick Tip by . October 31, 2009
Poor Texas man runs off with drug money he finds at a crime scene only to have a bounty hunter on his tail and a sheriff in between. Great.
About the reviewer
Diana Faillace Von Behren ()
Ranked #166
I like just about anything. My curiosity tends to be insatiable--I love the "finding out" and the "ah-ha" moments.      Usually I review a book or film with the … more
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About this movie


The Coen brothers make their finest thriller sinceFargowith a restrained adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, butNo Country for Old Menis their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day Western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet who could use 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 vet, 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 conscience, 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 ...
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Movies, Drama Movies, Action Movies, Dramas, Coen Brothers, Coen Brothers Movies, Woody Harrelson Movies, Joel Coen Movies, Javier Bardem Movies, Tommy Lee Jones Movies, Ethan Coen Movies, Josh Brolin Movies


Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Genre: Action, Drama, Adventure
Release Date: 2007, November 9, 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Runtime: 2hrs 2min
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