‘No Country for Old Men’: Expect the unexpected

Thu, 12/06/2007 - 4:52pm
By: Michael Boylan

The Coen Brothers make great movies, and “No Country for Old Men,” their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-seller, continues that trend. Only, it doesn’t feel like a Coen Brothers movie. “Fargo,” which was a crime-thriller in a way, also had a bit of a wacky sense of humor, as did “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski.”

“No Country for Old Men” is as serious as a heart attack which is a good thing because the book was dead serious as well. The Coen Brothers did an excellent job bringing the novel to the screen, but if you go in expecting any of their typical flair, you won’t find it. I found this to be a little unsettling, and that may have increased the impact the film had on me.

McCarthy’s story, which takes place in 1980, is a simple one. A man is hunting one day and stumbles across a drug deal gone bad. Both sides of the deal are dead from a massive gunfight and the man soon finds a case containing two million dollars. He tries to keep the money, and a killer named Anton Chigurh (pronounced shig-goor) comes after him. The rest of the story has the man, Llewelyn Moss, trying to stay a step ahead of the unstoppable psychopath. It is a novel of desperation, paranoia and fear. Chigurh is practically death himself. Thrown into the mix is Ed Tom Bell, the county sheriff, who is beginning to realize that the type of crime occurring in his small Texas county might be too much for him.

The acting is phenomenal and, like Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe’s performances in “American Gangster,” very subtle. Josh Brolin, who was also excellent in “American Gangster,” plays Moss superbly. Moss is an every-man who sees what he thinks as a ticket to easy street but soon realizes that the chase can only end with his or Chigurh’s death.

Javier Bardem is Chigurh and is incredible. It is a genuinely spooky performance and Bardem creates a terrifying villain. Tommy Lee Jones is Sheriff Bell and, though it seems like he has played law men in all of his recent roles, this may be his best performance yet. There is sadness and wisdom in his eyes and in his patter with his young deputy. He and his family have all been law men but he knows that his days on the force are numbered. After all, this is “No Country for Old Men.”

After leaving the theater the other night, I was ready to write off this film as nowhere near as good as “Fargo” or several other Coen Brother films, but now I’m not so sure. The story may not be original, but it is quite possibly one of the best adaptations from novel to screen I have seen. I thoroughly enjoyed McCarthy’s novel and there were many times during the film where I felt that the Coens had captured what I had seen in my mind’s eye while reading the book.

This is a sure-fire Oscar contender in a number of categories and a film that needs to be viewed by people who aren’t too squeamish (there is a good amount of blood in several scenes).


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