No Country For Old Men won the best picture Oscar this year. That is enough reason to see this film, no matter how you feel about the Academy awards. Even if you don’t buy into the Oscar hype, this film is able to stand all by itself as a real achievement in filmmaking. No Country for Old Men is the best Coen brothers film in a while, and certainly, one of the best films you’ll see all year.
The film is a close adaptation of the 2005 Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. June 1980. While out hunting one day, Llewellyn Moss stumbles on the scene of a drug deal gone bad. There, he finds a satchel containing two million dollars in cash. Seeing the money as his ticket to the good life, he decides to take it. This act, however, makes him the target of psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh, a remorseless, seemingly unstoppable murderer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Meanwhile, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell investigates the drug deal, and ends up having to look for both Moss, who disappeared into hiding, and Chigurh, who tearing a bloodstained path through Texas.
Cormac McCarthy’s story is a powerful one, and the Coens have stuck pretty close to it. The themes are universal and powerful, the characters larger-than-life and extremely compelling. The lines are quick and strong, entire monologues are worth memorizing. The astonishing thing about this script is that the three main characters hardly ever interact. The strength of the narrative lies in the extreme tension it builds as these three men, all with their own overriding sense of purpose and ethics, begin to move closer and closer to each other. The whole movie captures the feeling of watching an impending train crash, or some other inevitable disaster. It’s a master class of suspense scriptwriting. The ending might end up being frustrating for some people, but it fits thematically, and it’s hard to imagine the film ending any other way.
This film is no slouch when it comes to filmmaking either. There isn’t a single element out of place here, no extraneous details to remove us from the strength of the narrative. The sparse filmmaking leaves audiences alone to face the monstrosities of the film. There’s hardly any music to take you out of it, no infantile camera tricks to help give you a breather. The sequences are so tightly laid out that it leaves with no escape. It’s breathtaking filmmaking, to say the least. Cinematographer Roger Deakins deserves special mention here. His knowledge of the cinematic frame is absolute, and there is not a single flawed frame in this entire film.
All this cinematic greatness is tied up by a pretty great cast. Much has been made of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, and rightfully so. Bardem is fascinating in this film, portraying what is essentially a monster character and imbuing the role with humanity and a complexity that really becomes the crux of the entire story. But while everybody raves about Bardem, one should never ignore the talents of Josh Brolin, who plays his character almost entirely with nuance alone. His character isn’t the most expressive, but Brolin gets everything through. Most people have already forgotten that Tommy Lee Jones is actually a great actor, but he really delivers here. The weariness of his character just reaches out through the screen. It’s a great cast altogether, but these three performances are more than enough for any movie.
It almost feels unnecessary to praise a movie that’s already so acclaimed, one that won all the big awards in this year’s Oscars. I really can’t add anything else to the vast pool of praise that the film has already garnered. Suffice it to say that I feel the film deserves all the praise it got. Right along with There Will Be Blood, this film is of stands head and shoulders above most of the films that make it to our theaters. Anyone who claims to love cinema and the artistry behind it ought to see this film.