No Country For Old Men


Reviewed by: Chris

No Country For Old Men
"One comes out of the film dazzled by its technical perfection, trying to remember the jokes, recalling favourite scenes and the way everything was framed as if in a masterclass."

No Country For Old Men is almost like one of those Zen sayings. A frantic chase where nothing happens very quickly. A puzzle where the question is more meaningful than the answer. That sort of thing.

As if to disprove the title, old man Tommy Lee Jones is very comfortable, thank you. He’s Sheriff Bell. Takes everything in his stride. The rolling hills of the Texan border country. The challenges of living close to the land. The bad hombres. He’s seen it all. He is the land – it can’t get one up on him.

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Everyone else has yet to reach this exalted state of initiation.

Like Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who stumbles on a large number of banknotes, cocaine and people who have ceased living. The bodies died naturally – at least in the noir-ish vernacular of this movie. Natural to their line of work. As attested by the large number of bullet holes.

Or Anton Chigurh, the most philosophical of our characters. He hunts down prey with less room for mistakes than The Terminator. He is completely at peace with what he does. And human too – sometimes he will give a victim a chance to live based on the flip of a coin.

Now Carson Wells is above all this. He wears a nice suit and talks like a senator when he goes about his clean-up business. Messy details like Anton being his business.

Carla (Kelly Macdonald), thankfully, is quite human. And quite worried – if not a little excited – when husband Llewelyn suggest they will be better off - with the two million dollars he happened to find when out hunting. But who is better at keeping promises – loving hubby or homicidal Anton?

No Country For Old Men is the Coen Brothers at the height of their filmmaking powers. Although the story is superb, we are held in suspense for the end of each double entendre. Was it a true story? At one point the sheriff, to inspire Carla to help him, tells her an unlikely but rousing tale about some neighbours. Later on, though, she begins to doubt and asks him if it was a true story. “I couldn't swear to every detail,” he tells her kindly. Then, with a bit more of a glint in his eye, “But it's certainly true that it is a story.”

If the story and dialogue are arresting, the photography is even more so. We watch with fascination as Anton calmly and methodically does something with balls of cotton. What is he up to? The camera works in loving detail, framing each action in close-up. The result will probably be hilarious or horrific. We are dying to know which, but we have to wait for the camera to tell us in its own good time. Llewelyn is just as mysterious when hunting down some tent poles. The hardware store kindly offers to order the correct ones for his tent, but we know he wants them now. Desperately. Realising he’s not going to get any, he asks for a tent instead. What sort of tent? The one with the most tent poles of course...

This Coen-esque humour continues unabated throughout. It is supported by characterisation and acting that is little short of awesome. Javier Bardem (Anton) is the year’s best psychopath. Woody Harrelson (Carson) always brightens up a movie by the sheer force of his personality. But if there is a flaw it is maybe a lack of emotional substance. One comes out of the film dazzled by its technical perfection, trying to remember the jokes, recalling favourite scenes and the way everything was framed as if in a masterclass. But it could have benefited, I felt, from more warmth. The glow that Frances McDormand brought to Fargo. Or the lip-synching of George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? that made you want to jump out of your seat and join in.

Non-cinephiles may feel it is a bit too self-consciously artistic for a crime story. Why can’t they just tell the tale instead of breaking their backs to be witty? And what exactly happened at the end? Film fans will adore this movie. A few people will wonder why they spent two hours watching it. I hope I’ve helped you decide whether it’s for you or not.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2008
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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.
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Read more No Country For Old Men reviews:

Amber Wilkinson *****
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

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