It’s hard to believe that 14 years have passed since the release of the Coen brothers’ neo-Western No Country for Old Men. Like all of the renowned filmmakers’ best movies, this faithful adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel hasn’t aged a bit, its poetry and beauty growing starker, its themes gaining more relevance. An edge-of-your-seat thriller and an elegiac, gut-wrenching meditation on the passing of time and generational devolution, the now-classic feature showcases the brothers’ skills at their most stripped-down and rawest.
The plot grips from the first shot and rarely loosens its grasp. During a routine deer-hunting outing in the middle of the Texas desert, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon dead drug dealers and more than $2M in cash. He brings the money home to his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald). But an unexpected outburst of humanity prompts Llewelyn to return to the crime scene with a jug of water.
“…Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon dead drug dealers and more than $2M in cash.”
Big mistake. Now Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) – the embodiment of pure evil – is on his trail, not to mention Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a stalwart attempting to right just a tad more wrong before retirement. The infamous finale has frustrated many with its lack of resolution, but Bell’s monologue about dreams serves as a perfect denouement, encapsulating the film’s existential melancholy. What kind of resolution could there be? Heroes don’t ride off into the sunset. Instead, evil progressively corrodes Good as time marches on impassively.
The two-hour runtime flies by as the Coens shame bloated blockbusters with sheer craft. It’s not surprising that they so effortlessly mix soulful musings with atrocious violence and side-splitting comedy. What makes No Country for Old Men stand out from the brothers’ cinematic oeuvre is the scarcity of dialogue, coupled with the relentless momentum of the action. Not a single frame is out of place, nor a single line redundant.
It’s next-to-impossible to pinpoint a highlight in a flawless feature, but certain sequences do sear themselves into memory: Chigurh’s early escape from a police station; the first appearance of the bolt stunner; the initial discovery of the money by Moss; the exemplary “What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?” gas station sequence; the nerve-shredding motel room confrontation between our two anti-heroes.
"…an elegiac, gut-wrenching meditation on the passing of time and generational devolution..."