No Country for Old Men (2007)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2007 David N. Butterworth
***1/2 (out of ****)

With "No Country for Old Men," the brothers Coen return to Texas--and to form.

As I wrote in my May 31st review of the omnibus film "Paris, Je T'aime," to which Joel and Ethan Coen contributed a worthy 5-minute piece (with Steve Buscemi), "...the Coens prove that less is definitely more--their segment is more entertaining than their last five features put together!" and that statement, in light of their current release, seems even truer today than it did yesterday.

Cases in point: "The Ladykillers": painful. "Intolerable Cruelty": intolerable. "The Man Who Wasn't There": self-indulgent. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?": smug. "The Big Lebowski": affected. It's been eleven years since "Fargo," their masterpiece (although "Blood Simple" and "Raising Arizona" could also be considered their masterpieces if indeed one can have more than one), but "No Country for Old Men" proves well worth the wait.

Set in Texas (as was their "'Simple" debut), "No Country for Old Men" follows the fortunes of a hapless hunter, nicely played by Josh Brolin, who stumbles upon a stash of heroin and a cache of $2 million in the dry and dusty desert along the Rio Grande, the spoils of a drug deal gone awry. Before long Brolin's Llewelyn Moss has a tenacious trio on his tail: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a semi-jaded cop with a pokerfaced approach to justice; bounty hunter Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson in a ten-gallon hat); and last but not least the compressed air killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in a performance as intense as any put on film).

It's no coincidence that Bardem's image haunts the film's poster art: he's a colossal presence, rolling through the picture like a Mack truck with its brakes shot to pieces, decimating everything--and everyone--in his path. Chigurh is likely to become one of cinema's veritable bad guys, like Hannibal Lecter or "Blue Velvet"'s oxygen inhaling Frank Booth. Harrelson's role is much smaller--minor even--but he's fun nonetheless and Jones is just perfect, with his deadpan delivery and unhurried, unhampered way about him. Ed and his deputy Wendell (Garret Dillahunt) can often be found exchanging amusing tidbits of dialogue... when you can make out what they're saying, that is.

For in "No Country'" the Coens do for Texas drawl what they did for Minnesota accents in "Fargo." Their writing is typically acute (well, pre-1997 typical); as dry as the Rio Grande itself; witty; welcome. There's an affectionate feel here, not a meanspiritedness (a nerve-wracking scene between Chigurh and a gas station attendant is priceless; I was certainly relieved when the former *didn't* ask if the balloons blew up into funny shapes). The film is slow-paced and brooding, heightened by Bardem's malevolence, with time out for droll interchanges and spectacular views of the neighboring geography (Roger Deakins is once again the Coens' cinematographer of choice; likewise regular contributor Carter Burwell provides a sparse, underwritten score).

Bloody and brutal, bleak and beautiful, "No Country for Old Men" (from the novel by Cormac McCarthy) marks a triumphant return for the filmmaking duo responsible for some of the most creative films of the late '80s and early '90s. Theirs is a rich and refreshingly fertile "'Country'" for old fans.

David N. Butterworth

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