It’s that Oscar time of year again when compelling movies get released late so they can remain in the heads of the Academy voters easier. The latest up to bat is No Country For Old Men. It’s the highly anticipated film by none other than Joel and Ethan Coen (better known as the Coen brothers).
No Country For Old Men follows in the footsteps of their other critically acclaimed, dark and witty drama Fargo. It features Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a small town sheriff trying to stop the assured demise of Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) at the hands of a ruthless hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Sounds simple enough – and it is – yet what sets this movie apart from the flock, is the exceptional writing (or should I say adaptation from the Cormac McCarthy novel) and directing. I don’t think there is another screenwriter or director that can touch the Coen brothers when they set out to make a remarkable movie.
From a writing standpoint, they are good at being able to capture the barest of human emotions and present them in the most basic and ofttimes, bewildering ways. In No Country For Old Men, it is very much like a battle between Heaven and Hell, with man caught in the middle. The angel could be construed as Ed Tom Bell. Even though he’s tired and ready for retirement, he displays all the virtues you’d expect a winged messenger of Heaven to possess – patience, understanding, kindness and diligence. While he would certainly love to catch the man responsible for the murder spree, his main focus is to save Llewelyn from his own bravado and get him reunited with his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald). Llewelyn is the poor mortal caught in the middle of the struggle between good and evil. He’s fully aware that the likelihood of his survival is slim to none, but he simply can’t let go of the satchel of drug money. He is wholly consumed with greed – so much so that instead of seeking help, he figures to face off with the devil himself. But the icing on the cake has to go to the demon, Anton Chigurh. Ruthless and evil, this man’s sole purpose is to kill, sometimes for no more of a reason than the outcome of a coin toss. He systematically hunts down Llewelyn and will stop at nothing until gets what he is after (very Terminator like).
From a directing standpoint, the Coen brothers manage to get the very best from each of the actors and actresses working on the project. Josh Brolin, who is enjoying one hell of a resurgence (see American Gangster), is great as the man stuck in a very bad situation. He’s got one hell of a cocky swagger about him and it lends very well to his Texas trailer park character. There isn’t much to say about Tommy Lee Jones. He loves to play the grizzled law-man and once again he nails the performance. He’s undoubtedly one of the better actors of his generation. Even the supporting cast – Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Barry Corbin – all add a special touch to round out the eclectic mix of personalities needed to make a good movie great. But once again the prize goes to Javier Bardem as the hitman from Hell. I’ve personally never heard of or seen his work before, so his role was a complete surprise. No emotion, no inflection in his voice, no soul behind his eyes – his depiction of pure evil is wonderfully disturbing, to say the least (I wonder if he got any inspiration from watching the HBO documentary The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Hitman). As I watched Anton interact with those around him, I couldn’t help but feel heightened tension since I knew things weren’t going to work out so well for them.
I can honestly say No Country For Old Men is the best movie of 2007 to date and a front runner for the Oscar for Best Picture (and a slew of other categories). The great writing, the great acting and the great directing ensures this. However, to fully appreciate all the intricacies and subtle plot developments, you’ll have to see the movie several times. That’s okay though, a film like this deserves to be seen more than once.