No Country For Old Men

No Country For Old Men

*****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

After the purple patch of Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou, the Coen Brothers seemed to lose their edge slightly, with Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers and The Man Who Wasn't There. No Country For Old Men marks a sharp return to form, seeing them capitalise on what is frequently best about their work – humour in unexpected places and the interaction between man and the American landscape.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy, they certainly know how to pick their source material and turn it into a truly cinematic experience.

Copy picture

The story, though at heart a cat-and-mouse chase, is like a magician’s box of tricks, constantly morphing to reveal hidden and unexpected surprises. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a down-to-earth cowboy type. He lives with his good woman Carla Jean (Glasgow’s Kelly Macdonald showing a remarkable aptitude for the southern American drawl) in Texas. These are wide open spaces (captured beautifully by Roger Deakins) and their immensity and windswept silence is matched by the dialogue, which is sparing and to the point. Although not a Western in the traditional sense, it owes much to the genre where men are strong and silent and women in their place. Even when things become more talky, they find the perfect cadence and rhythm of the Texan accent to carry the audience along for the ride.

The Coens allow the plot and the characters to be introduced slowly. This means we see Moss stumble on a drug deal gone south while out hunting. The drug runners are all dead, or dying, but the money is still standing and proves a temptation too great for him to resist.

Meanwhile, in a second storyline, a criminal, Anton Chirguh (Javier Bardem), demonstrates just how dangerous he is in a swift and brutal killing, before heading out on the road with his weapon of choice, an airtank with "gun" attachment, usually reserved for slaying cattle.

These plot lines coalesce in a beautifully organic fashion when Moss makes the mistake of returning to the scene of the deaths, sparking a pursuit which will set him running for his life, as Chirguh, a man who would prefer to shoot you than shoot the breeze, gives chase thanks to a tracking device hidden in the stolen loot.

Also on the hunt is Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones, bringing his trademark gruffness to a role that fits him like a glove), the local sheriff, who quickly sizes up the state of affairs, and Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), a larger than life hired gun who is also after the cash.

Against the whisper of wind and buzz of flies, the Coens manage to find tension in the subtlest of movements and cut the dialogue through with humour as arid as the landscape.

“If I don’t come back, tell my mother I love her,” Moss tells Carla Jean.

“Your mother’s dead.”

“Then I’ll tell her myself.”

Despite being set in 1980, the film has a mythic feel, carrying a weight of history that has led to these repeated acts of senseless violence. Bad things happen to good people for no reason other than a collapse of morality and thirst for cash. That the Coens repeat the clever trick used in Fargo of finding an undercurrent of viscous black humour running beneath the violence, makes it all the more disturbing. When there’s no why behind a killing, how can you stop it?

Since the story plays out so surprisingly, there is never a moment to relax, despite the two-hour runtime and although the scripting is frequently sparse there is plenty of characterisation to be seen. Even the subsidiary characters, such as Harrelson’s Wells and Bell’s slightly dim sidekick Wendell (Garret Dillahunt in a small but excellent showing), feel realistically drawn.

It is Bardem who steals the show, however, with his pared down portrayal of a psychopath. Devoid of humour, he commands every scene he is in with an air of broody menace. Oscar nominations beckon… and Bardem should nail one dead.

Reviewed on: 09 Oct 2007
Share this with others on...
No Country For Old Men packshot
A man goes on the run from a psychopath in Texas after coming across a briefcase of stolen cash.
Amazon link

Read more No Country For Old Men reviews:

Chris ****1/2
Anton Bitel ****1/2

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root, Rodger Boyce, Beth Grant

Year: 2007

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database:


Related Articles:

Top 50