"No Country for Old Men" begins when Llewelyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a sentry of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law--in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell--can...
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"No Country for Old Men" begins when Llewelyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a sentry of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law--in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell--can contain. As Moss tries to evade his pursuers--in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives--the film simultaneously strips down the American crime drama and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this morning's headlines.
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There are still a lot of good movies slated for November and December, but it's hard to imagine anything topping the Coen brothers' chiller-thriller No Country for Old Men; let's just say nothing has in the first 10 months of 2007.
Early on in No Country for Old Men, there is a wide-angle shot of an open field in border-town Texas. Gorgeous but menacing, it is the very snapshot of "calm before the storm." One of the men who will momentarily be in the storm's epicenter, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), is actually providing us with this view through the scope of his rifle, as he stalks the unsuspecting antelope. Even further in the distance, a cluster of bullet-ridden trucks catches his eye, and so he walks that distance for a closer look. What he finds is a drug deal gone awry and $2 million with his name on it. He scurries away with the cash and without the knowledge he has just turned the devil onto him. Enter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who some know as the devil, or as a ghost, or as the bogeyman, or not at all, and whose blood money Llewelyn just intercepted. There are crazy-serial-killer types and then there is Anton, a murderer whose blood is so cold that he derives only apathy from taking a life—which has afforded him a very successful career as a hitman. Once word gets out that Anton is after Llewelyn, a third man enters the fray—an aging policeman (Tommy Lee Jones) loath to draw his gun in the small town he has manned for years, let alone hunt down a lunatic. So the tango begins, with Llewelyn unwittingly carrying a transponder through which Anton can track him and Anton wittingly leaving a path of bodies through which the lawman can track him.
It takes a cast like the one in No Country to pull off what the Coen brothers demand of their actors—which is to say acting that transcends dialogue delivery. Take Bardem's villain, for example, a man(iac) of few words. The Oscar nominee, whose Anton is fear-inspiring on first look, says as much with his impassive demeanor and lack of swagger as he does with his terse, literal dialogue. But when he does speak, it makes the words stick that much more; a scene in which he introduces the word "Friend-o" into the cinephile lexicon will have you sweating and chuckling—nervously. His is the type of psycho that's as entrancing and potentially iconic as Hannibal Lecter. As the guy on the run, so to speak, Brolin is this movie's version of the good guy, though that doesn't exactly compel you to root for him. Brolin instead, like Bardem, conveys what isn't spoken--in his case logical fear that is stupefied by virility and money hunger. It marks another great performance for Brolin, whose 2007 has been full of them. Jones, meanwhile, could not have been a more perfect casting choice to provide No Country's voice of reality, its Mr. Righteous. His aging, overmatched cop doesn't even get harmed but still might be the movie's lone true victim, thanks to the eloquent but stoic performance of Jones, who also serves as narrator. And Woody Harrelson in a small, speedy role shows zest we haven't seen in a long time.
Joel and Ethan Coen have always worked best in the dark, be it comedy or drama. With No Country, they've reached their peak darkness in both genres. The movie is often something of an exercise in subtle, pitch-black comedy—perhaps the only way in which it strays from its source material, a wildly beloved novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy—detectable only by those who pay close attention to and/or are familiar with the Coens. But it's the suspense here that differs from their entire oeuvre and all of their contemporaries. With virtually no music, long periods of silence and positively nothing extraneous, the directors create tension via minimalism: Chase sequences are done mostly on foot and conclude intimately and gruesomely, with one scene featuring Brolin and Bardem separated by a hotel-room door pr
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