Director(s): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones
Last week, I picked out six DVDs from my collection and made these films essential viewing over the next couple of weeks or so. These are films which just about everyone else seems to have watched before, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, I have a tendency to leave the “classics” on the shelf for a special occasion. I have already ticked off ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (which is now in my all time top 5), so now it was time to confess my cinematic sins again and confront ‘No Country For Old Men’. That said, with the film only set to reach its eighth birthday this year, I didn’t feel too guilty about missing it until now. I guess this is the epitome of a “modern classic”; a toddler when compared to the true greats of decades ago, yet one of the most critically-acclaimed films since the turn of the millennium. I have genuinely never heard a bad word said about ‘No Country For Old Men’, and with four academy awards to back up the hype, I expected great things.
One fateful day, Llewyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across one hell of a crime scene, with a whole gang of Mexican dealers shot dead just a short car journey from his home. But whoever did this, forgot to take their $2 million bounty, and Llewyn is happy to take care of it for them. When he realises that people kinda want that money back, he forges an escape plan, stashing himself and the money in a motel room. But the man looking for him is no ordinary man, and not just because of his bizarre haircut. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a brutal and deranged man, who is ready to kill in a heartbeat, and you will find no remorse in this ruthless killer. A three way cat and mouse game ensues, with Anton bearing down on Llewyn and the money, and the local Sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) desperately trying to get to him first and ensure his safety.
A trio of fantastic actors are all in fine form here, but it is Javier Bardem who leads the way. His manic portrayal of the murderous Chigurh is right up there with some of the best acting performances I’ve ever seen, and it really feels as though it is he who sets the pace of the whole film, pulling it whichever way he pleases. His stone-faced, cold-blooded approach to death and violence is quite terrifying, as is his unique choice of weaponry. From this display, it is clear to see why he got the nod as the Bond villain in ‘Skyfall’; plenty of the cruel and malevolent mannerisms he exhibits here certainly carry over into the role of Silva. Josh Brolin really grew into the role as the film progressed. I was initially somewhat against his character, and whilst he maintains an arrogant and rather naive air throughout, I found myself warming to his character and urging him on to safety. Rounding it off is Tommy Lee Jones, an actor I will always appreciate thanks to his work in the ‘Men In Black’ series. His Sheriff Bell is a straight-shooting, disgruntled old man, traits which have become quite synonymous with Jones. I just wish he had gotten more involved, but then I guess that’s the point of calling a film ‘No Country For Old Men’.
In typical Coen brothers fashion, the film is presented in a very dark and gritty manner, with no respite of the black comedy that you’d find in ‘Fargo’. It’s a storyline that we are all familiar with – bad guy loses money, doesn’t stop til he gets it back – but with the unique characterisation of Chigurh, and the attention to detail paid to weapons, clothing and setting, the Coen Brothers deliver a refreshing and innovative example of a previously overused narrative. This is thrilling and unpredictable, and though I feel like it may have lost its way for a short period half way through, I was sufficiently engaged to see it through to the powerful climax. After the dust settles, a poignant monologue from Tommy Lee Jones ends the film in poetic fashion; a clever piece of writing, no doubt, but a scene which leaves the narrative frustratingly unresolved.
With these classics I’ve lined up to watch, I feel as though I should be giving them all perfect marks, and that I’m committing some kind of high treason for any criticisms. There were aspects of ‘No Country For Old Men’ that I loved – the violence, the tension, the superb villain – but I was slightly let down by slow periods and a disappointing finish. Nevertheless, this is riveting stuff, a no holds barred, devilishly entertaining 2 hours of violence. I can see why people love this film so much, but I’m more inclined to say I really, really like it.