No Country for Old Men

Few movies come along each decade like “No Country for Old Men”—it’s an old-fashioned, multi-tonal thriller with rich characters, fascinating story-telling and a unique perspective on a genre that’s seen it all. It makes sense that this film come from Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmakers who brought to the silver screen the closest film resembling this nearly twelve years ago when they made “Fargo.”

Like “Fargo,” “No Country” has scenes of excruciating and unexpected violence, some deadpan (but not over-the-top) hilarity, and several memorable moments that will live on in the canon of film history. Also like “Fargo” — released in 1996, “No Country for Old Men” will be among the best films of the year… if not the decade.

When all-purpose welder Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) accidentally stumbles upon a heroin deal that has seen “whoa differences” and finds a satchel full of money, he knowingly becomes the target of a ruthless and reasonless killer (Javier Bardem), a small-town sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) and a bounty hunter (Woody Harrelson). What ensues can be construed as a “cat and mouse chase” but this is more refined and stylistic. What actually ensues is a quiet, character-driven adventure of Hitchcockian proportions. Think “North by Northwest” minus the major set pieces with a touch of “Psycho”-style contained chaos. There are long stretches of silence when the characters are on-screen and you see them react to their surroundings, much the same way the characters behave in the Bates Motel. What you see is ACTING, my friends. There are recurring motifs involving blood trails and seeing exactly what the characters are seeing so that we piece things together at the same time. It’s an interactive experience, and it’s wonderful.

People will come to the theater to see the face-off between Brolin and Bardem. Some will be let down by the climax, I guarantee. Most, hopefully, will see this movie for what it is: a brilliant, expertly crafted film with majestically acting. Brolin has really impressed me this year. With his campy and sadistic performance in “Planet Terror” and his creepy and machismo-driven turn in “American Gangster” Brolin has really become more than “that douche-bag from ‘The Goonies.’” In “No Country for Old Men” Brolin gives a sturdy performance. He is ever-likable as the welder Moss and the way he interacts with his wife (played by “Trainspotting” and “Gosford Park” beauty Kelly Macdonald) is fun and loving. He’s a smart guy and tough as nails, but finds himself out-matched (and out-acted) by Bardem’s Anton Chigurh.

As Chigurh, Bardem has given the performance of the year. He’s captivating, charming, chilling, likable, loathable, professional, smooth, and endearing. If you had told me that a slightly out-of-shape middle-aged man with a Prince Adam haircut would shake me to the very core of my existence with his every moment on-screen I would’ve laughed in your ridiculous face. The Coen’s get the last laugh however, because Javier Bardem has pulled off a true dramatic feat. If there is an award for Best Actor given to any other thespian this year, said actor should forfeit his statue or title and bow down to the thrown of Bardem. It’s the best performance given by an antagonist since Daniel Day Lewis’ Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York” — and those two performances stand high above almost every other in their category. Another testament to Bardem’s performance—and to Brolin’s—is that this isn’t a movie where you root for the bad guy necessarily (as “Gangs of New York” is due to the dreadful miscasting of Leonardo DiCaprio). We WANT Anton to be stopped, but it’s hard to believe that he ever will. There’s a sense of the supernatural here even though there’s nothing outside of human capability at hand. This is just surreality at its absolute best.

Kudos to the Coens for crafting a thriller that remains fresh and breathtaking throughout the entirety of its 122-minute runtime. The direction is vivid: the film is dark, but never hard to see; the landscape is vast, but never gorgeous; the film is largely silent, but never boring. To juggle so much detail and remember that the main thing here to see is a the development of a story, I give the Coens major props for never resorting to cheap gimmicks that you see in other thrillers, namely a cheesy score and a plethora of twists.

As comforting as it is to see Tommy Lee Jones in a role he knows well* it is just as comforting to see the Coens rise to the top of their game again. With a number of classics under their belt already such as “Raising Arizona,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” “O Brother! Where Art Thou?,” and now “No Country for Old Men” it’s only a matter of time until the Coens are considered today’s most visionary and prolific directors.**

Grade: A

* I didn’t mention Jones much in this review. He’s terrific in that “John Wayne-ish” sense in this film. I would normally see an actor who essentially plays the same role over and over as a negative but Jones fits so nicely into the archetype as the Sheriff/Detective/Authority Figure that its easy to overcome any repetition in the roles he takes.

** That is, if they aren’t already considered among the best, which I imagine they HAVE to be.

Lions for Lambs Poster Release Date: November 21, 2007
Rated: R for strong graphic violence and some language.
Running Time: 122 min.
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Screenplay: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Cormac McCarthy (novel)
Studio: Miramax
Official Website: Click Here

Josh is a multi-tasker. He's been a cubicle monkey for the last few years, a veteran stage actor of over 10 years, a sometimes commercial actor, occasional writer of articles, a once-legend in the realm of podcastery, purveyor of chuckles in his homecity of Chicago as he has trained with the world renown iO (Improv Olympic) and Second City Conservatory and performed with both theaters, and can be seen doing a thing that actor's do on the website of his online sitcom, Josh also likes to tackle the beef of his bio with one run-on sentence, because it befits his train-of-thought.

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