PSA: No Country For Old Men (2007), or You’ve Been Putting It Up Your Whole Life; You Just Didn’t Know It

19 03 2009
Three panthers stalking one another, each serving some primal and twisted justice that exists higher than any one person.

Three panthers stalking one another, each serving some primal and twisted justice that exists higher than any one person.

Every now and then, an American movie comes out that restores all the faith I lose in this country from years of Bay-heimer, Kevin Costner, and Peter Hyams stuffing crap on my plate and calling it gold. This is genuinely one of those movies, an American vision of the vicious cycle of violence. No County For Old Men is not just a good movie, not just a great movie. It means something more, at least to me. It is a completely realized artistic vision about the bloody repercussions of greed, anger, and chance. Our life is angry, erratic, and unpleasantly short, and what this film does surprisingly well is something that very few other films in the history of the medium has ever done; it recognizes that fact.

It is 1980. In the flatlands of Texas, a man named Llewelyn Moss hunts in the tall grass with a rifle in his hand and the sun on his back. In his travels across the spacious plains, he finds a grisly sight; a recent drug deal gone wrong. Corpses dot the scene, bullet holes are scattered throughout the various vehicles, and it must have been such a brutal shootout that nobody able-bodied could claim the prize, because the drugs and the money are still there at the scene. Llewelyn takes the money, an amount nearing $ 2 million, and goes on the run. He tells his wife to go into hiding with her mother and that when things cool down they will reunite. He knows that a lot of people are going to track him to claim this obscene amount of money, and he is going to try to stay a step ahead of them. And people do indeed try to track him, including the Mexican Mafia, the wizened and weary local sheriff, and a mysterious hit man with a pageboy haircut (?) named Anton Chigurh who will blow through anything in his way to get what he wants. The film follows Llewelyn, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and even Anton on the trail of this money, and we are shown man’s gnarled and tangled heart through the eyes of men who live in a world of gruesome, brutal justice.

Based on a book by Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men is a perfect American film. I can think of nothing that would make this better. The Coen brothers’ dark style and McCarthy’s grim tale of greed make a perfect combination. It is pitch-black, cynical to the bone, and ever-so-bleak, but that only makes it better, stronger. At once it is a simple cat-and-mouse movie when it deals with Llewelyn Moss, who is the underdog you root for the whole way, a meditation on violence when it deals with Ed Tom Bell, who is the learned sage taken back into action one last time, and a surreal horror movie when it deals with Anton Chigurh, who is the troubling material that nightmares are made of. These characters are beyond deep, and approach realism at an alarming rate, but just like life, you have to read the subtext of how a man behaves and what he says to understand his true nature. That’s part of the intrigue with this film.

The Coen brothers here make a lot of decisions to set this apart from a lot of other movies. There is virtually no soundtrack, which adds to the haunted nature of this film. When there is silence for these people, there is silence for us, and we are forced to sit in it with them. Very powerful stuff. Dialog is also very scattered, also to my delight. Nowadays, it is striking to NOT hear people talking every minute of the run-time, so this will really catch the younger generation off guard with its lack of filler dialog. It creates a palpable realism when there is no noise whatsoever in a person’s isolation. The shots are also fantastic. What I like best is their refusal to turn away from brutality but their hesitance to look at just where the money is and who is after it. The film does not care who has the money or why they want it or where its being hidden. It cares instead about the men who lust for it, the sheriff who wants to stop them, and their complex webs they have weaved around the people who know them.

There are so many good scenes! The infamous coin toss scene, where Anton goes into a gas station and gambles with some yokel’s life, is gut-wrenching. He doesn’t even know he has offended Anton’s sensibilities by merely existing, and Anton would have no problem with dispatching him, but Anton lives by unfathomable rules and codes of conduct and it cannot be so easy for him. The scene of Llewelyn hunting at the beginning sent shivers throughout my body with the thought that Texas could be so beautiful, if not also barbarous and indifferent. Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is my favorite character, and he makes the movie for me whenever he is on screen. When he is investigating the whereabouts of Llewelyn and Anton, the repartee with his deputy is top notch, full of well-timed wise-cracks and also a tinge of melancholy that life has become so harsh. His final monologue might be the single greatest ending I have ever seen. It is that good.

This is a movie that should be experienced to be understood. If you cannot find this movie, I will lend it to you. If you cannot see, I will give you a scene-by-scene run-through personally (and, by the way, how are you reading this?). It is a dark journey through parts of us that we rarely talk about, let alone see, and it will stand the test of time to become one of our nation’s classics. It should be discussed thoroughly with friends, family members, and your resident FILM SNOB (if I am your resident film snob, ask me later about this movie; I love to talk about it!). To me, it is flawless, and I will rate it as such. Therefore, I give No Country For Old Men the coveted 10 pageboy haircuts out of 10!

See you tomorrow, folks, where we entertain the idea of ghosts with The Amityville Horror!

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