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

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4.5 stars

No Country For Old Men

Synopsis: The Wild West takes on a new feel in the 1980s, when cattle rustling has given way to drug running. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is your average blokey guy who’s out shootin’ when he comes across a grisly collection of dead bodies, a pick-up stashed with Mexican heroin and a briefcase containing 2 million dollars. He cannot resist the money but soon both Mexicans and psychopathic hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) are hot on his heels. Meanwhile Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to get a handle on how thing went so wrong.

Novelist Cormack McCarthy has often written about the changing face of the American West whilst the Coens have regularly tapped into aspects of the American Dream, albeit often less than savoury ones, in their films. After the disappointments of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers the brothers are back at the top of their game with a thriller that is exactly what a thriller should be.

Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins does a splendid job with capturing the wide open harsh spaces of the Texas/Mexican border and complements these with extraordinarily powerful interior shots, in which light and shadow constantly interplay to create maximum suspense. Many of the frames would make for stunning still photos, so exquisite is their composition. The timing of every scene is also immaculate, with carefully measured tense sequences that capitalise upon the importance of silence.

The plot is not only thrilling but the film is also a wonderful character study, with Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell, a thoroughly likeable and moral man with a wry sense of humour at the core of the story. Jones’ voice-over at the start sets the scene for his character, telling us that all the men in his family have been sheriffs. Jones is no stranger to this style of role, but here he brings a homespun philosophical dimension to Bell as a man perplexed at how the world around him is getting so bad when he tries so hard to put things right.

He is in stark contrast to Chigurh, an almost incomprehensibly vicious killer, who at times forces people to call a coin toss to determine their fate but who mostly dispatches them brutally with either a cattle stun-gun or a powerful rifle with a king-size silencer. Bardem portrays his character with a powerfully charismatic, almost evil force, not to mention the most memorable hairdo since that of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction! Chigurh is a man who is coldly violent, ruthless and unstoppable. Completing the male triptych is Moss, your everyday kind of man who does what many would in the circumstance but who has no idea what kind of cataclysm he is unleashing. Brolin seems made for the role.

Supporting actors are all spot-on. Moss’ wife Carla is played by Kelly Macdonald who embodies a kind of trailer-dwelling naiivete. Woody Harrelson is Carson Wells, a bounty hunter, and as always he leaps off the screen. Sheriff Bell has a talkative side-kick, Deputy Wendell, (Garret Dillahunt) and this character proves a terrific foil for the Sheriff’s laconic utterances.

The dialogue is a bonus to the action, in some ways with the same power as that of Fargo. The only downside of the film would be perhaps that the ending is both too oblique and too abrupt but most people by this stage will be too thrilled to care.

 

 

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