The Coen Brothers are, truly, one of the finest the quintessences of awesome film-making. No Country For Old Men demonstrates this perfectly. OK, it's an adaptation of a book. And we all know how many times that concept results in cringeworthy failures and the loss of important factors. Like plot. But, the Coens make good on their turn. Very good.
Cormac McCarthy's book is as desolate and sparse as the harsh, dusty, barren South-American desertlands it sets itself in, but it's highly descriptive and powerfully jarring. McCarthy's ability to convey pages and pages in one sentence is brilliant, and it makes it a very direct and jolting reading experience, whilst at the same time being slow-burning and steady. The story is a classic deadly cat-and-mouse-style intrigue, but it's not a story that's wrapped up in a neat little bow with all the bad guys in prison and the all the good guys sipping margaritas in a Mexican sun-trap! The ending to say the least is ambiguous (which is personally why I think a lot of people disliked the movie version) and the pace is sharp but slow.
Josh Brolin is excellently cast as Llewellyn Moss, (although it was the lighting courtesy of Robert Rodriguez in his audition tape that caught the Bros' eyes as opposed to his acting. Oops.) the grizzled Vietnam-Vet-Turned-Welder-Turned-Hunter who stumbles across a fortune in heroin and a satchel of cold, hard cash in the outback open country of Texas. Cue: Moss is plunged into a chase with a madman - all hell breaks loose. Brolin's performance is amazing, he's baffled, disbelieving, cynical, yet sets about his surreal situation with grim determination. And a large shotgun. Whilst I suspect millions of dollars would be a sturdy motivator for most people to go head-to-head with a psychotic, weird-haircut-wearing hit-man, Moss still has more grit than a fleet of ice-trucks.
Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurgh is the first time since Darth Vader that a film character has truly disturbed me. Just like Darth, I had the inescapable feeling that bad things were imminent and people were surely going to expire horribly whenever this guy coolly sauntered on screen. His complete cold detachement is chilling - he is a complete dyed-in-the-woool killing machine, and his menace is only further enhanced by his truly strange 'do, his love of pneumatic weapons, and his complete trust in that fickle master of horrors himself, Fate. A man who thinks nothing of flipping coins to determine a person's survival is a man who is monumentally insane. Or just sociopathically ambivalent towards human life. Look out for the self-surgery scene, which is a testament to Chigurgh's overall inhuman detachment. Amazing.
Tommy Lee Jones is also fantastic as always, he's a perfect old school Texan Sheriff, who is truly appalled at the carnage exploding around him, and having a murderous ghost like Chigurgh around, the body count soon mounts up. Sheriff Bell is one of the most human elements of the film - he does his grim duty and tries gallantly to put a stop to the killing and general decline of society, but he's a man sensing his battle is a lost cause. It's all he can do to keep his head above water and he finally retreats, world-weary and battle-drawn into retirement, longing for the days of old where sheriffs never wore guns and hit men never used cattle bolts to kill people.
Kelly Macdonld isn't bad as Carla Jean either, Moss' southern-belle young wife. Her accent's good (she's a Scot! Cool!) and she's the only character who gives Chigurgh what for - admittedly she's like a scared rabbit caught in headlights when she finally meets him, but she still stops him in his tracks a bit. Which is a great juxtaposition, as he puts paid to burley fellow hit men, hard-ass mexicans with a well-stocked cache of very large guns and scores of poh-lice with great ease. Not to say Carla Jean escapes unscathed, but she's still somewhat victorious! This movie is understated excellence, the script remains respectfully true to it's source material, the characters are well-defined and explored (enhanced by fabulous acting, which is always a plus) and it deserves recognition as a stand-alone film, not just an adaptation. The whole film also looks beautiful, with stunning, epic sun-baked desert-esquire vistas, and claustrophobic, dusty, edge-of-Mexico motels. The violence is just like McCarthy's writing style - pared-down, to the point and jolting, without ever crossing the line into gratuitous, Tarantino-like caricature (which is not a bad thing, but would be completely at odds with the slow, almost delicately paced story and the careful dialogue). This is a class film, well-acted, gorgeously shot and faithfully reproduced from a fantastic source material. It's an amazing movie, but I would suggest a read of the book, because for me, it made the film's ending sit much better. Although the amount of fellow movie-goers who were vociferously deflated with the lack of conclusion would disagree with me. And probably hit me with a pressurised cattle bolt or something.
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