Published on January 18th, 2008 | by Paul Greenwood0
No Country For Old Men
Cast: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Tess Harper, Garret Dillahunt, Barry Corbin
It’s been a long time since we got a truly great movie from the Coen brothers. No Country For Old Men is so close to being a great movie you can taste it. As it stands though, an air of dissatisfaction, bordering on loss, hangs over it. This is down to the Coen’s decision to follow Cormac McCarthy’s source novel to the letter until, at some point during the final act, it flies completely off the rails resulting in an anticlimax of devastating proportions. With so much investment for so little resolution, you can’t help but feel cheated. I first saw the film in Cannes back in May and there was an audible gasp from the audience when the end title came up, the applause coming out as polite and bewildered, instead of the thunderous ovation that seemed to have been building for 90% of the running time.
Plot-wise, it’s straightforward enough, as Brolin’s Texan trailer-type finds $2m at the scene of a drug deal turned bloodbath. Wisely realising that some bad people might be interested in retrieving it, he legs it with the cash and spends the rest of the movie on the run from Anton Chigurh (Bardem), a relentless killer, while Jones’ sheriff in turn chases Chigurh.
As a chase thriller, No Country For Old Men is almost perfect, consistently matching the very best moments of Leon, Collateral, The Terminator, the Bourne films and any number of greats, as devastating violence, vicious humour and canny characterisation combine for an intense and enormously exciting experience. If it had remained a genre piece, instead of the morality play the Coens want it to be, it may have emerged as an all time classic.
On the back of Bardem’s probable Oscar, Anton Chigurh will emerge as one of the most memorable psychopaths in cinema history, destined to be mentioned in the same breath as Hannibal Lecter and Michael Myers. It’s a bone-chilling turn, his dead eyes betraying not a hint of emotion as he decides who lives and dies on the toss of a coin. Brolin is also a revelation in what has been a great year for him but Jones frustratingly remains a peripheral figure in a film where he represents the moral centre. Ultimately, No Country For Old Men is a very strong film that’s just a couple of bad decisions away from being a masterpiece.