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USA 2007
Directed by
Joel Coen / Ethan Coen
122 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

No Country For Old Men

The Coen Brothers return to the terrain of their 1984 debut Blood Simple with this nightmarish crime yarn. Whilst the brothers have gone from strength to strength as film-makers since then no doubt the kernel of what makes this film so strong, the way it unfolds its tale of implacable evil against the background of a South-West that is rapidly disappearing is down to the Cormac McCarthy novel on which it is based.  But equally evident is the skill which the brothers bring to their big screen realization of it.  

At the centre of the story which is set in West Texas in 1980 is Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who while out hunting stumbles on the aftermath of a drug trade gone murderously wrong and decides that the risk of keeping the $2million in cash he finds is worth it. Little does he anticipate the implacable vengeance of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a psycho-killer sent to retrieve the money. Meanwhile the local Sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), an ol’ timer on the cusp of retirement (a distant relative of Marge Gunderson in the Coen’s cult hit Fargo 1996) is also on the trail, trying to catch Moss before Chigurh does. The story describes a tightening spiral as Moss flees to Mexico.

No Country for Old Men is not so much a violent film as a film that unflinchingly describes violent acts. The epicentre of this is the killer who frames his heinous deeds with a perversely fatalistic determination.  Bardem with his stony face, chillingly measured voice and weird haircut is outstanding in the part (it earned him the Best Actor Oscar whilst the film won Best Picture, and the brothers shared Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars) but Brolin and Jones are also highly effective in their roles (Woody Harrelson appears for a while as Carson Wells, a DEA officer sent to find Chigurh).

Violence aside, No Country for Old Men is a superbly well-made film with the Coens’ wit and style lifting what in lesser hands would have been simply an effective genre story. Long time collaborators cinematographer Roger Deakins and Carter Burwell (music score) make their usual substantial contributions (another regular name, editor Roderick Jaynes, is a pseudonym for the Coens)

Whilst thrillers often assume some kind of indulgence with plotting there are a few issues that slightly bothered me. Why did Moss return to scene of the crime and so start the chain of events that would go disastrously wrong? Why when Tom Ed visits Moss’s trailer home and realises that the killer he is looking for had been there earlier he not only does not have the milk bottle dusted for prints but picks it up and drinks from it? How did Chigurh find Wells’ boss, let alone travel to Dallas and enter a government building with a considerable-sized fire-arm? And why, when Wells finds the money, does he not retrieve it?

Despite these niggles No Country for Old Men is the Coens in fine form.. 




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