Director – Joel and Ethan Coen
Writer – Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring – Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelsen, Kelly McDonald
As one of many long-standing fans of the Coen brothers it’s a bit of an obvious statement to make that I was looking forward to No Country For Old Men. Everyone who has seen it has been saying how good it is, that it should win all sorts of awards in various different areas. And although, for me anyway, it isn’t quite as good as I’ve heard it is still none the less a stellar piece of American filmmaking.
The film is about Llewelyn Moss (Brolin), a man who stumbles upon a drug-deal gone wrong and two million dollars in cash. Hot on his trail is Anton Chigurh (Bardem), a relentless psychopath who’s hell bent on retrieving the money and killing anyone who gets in his way. Trying to find Chigurh is the county sheriff (Jones) who is having little luck in doing so.
The Coen brothers have long since established themselves as two of the world’s greatest filmmakers, certainly America’s and this is another fine piece of work from the twosome. For the first time both brothers share a directing credit instead of their usual “take-turns at it” mentality. Perhaps they wanted to try something new, perhaps they realised they had something so good on their hands that they wanted to equally share the glory (of which they surely will receive) but who knows? Whatever the reason what the both of them have come up with is one of the best films of 2007, a chilling portrayal of life and crime to rival, in some ways, a lot of their other work. I can’t quite go as far as to say they have topped their masterpiece Fargo, or that I like it more than The Big Lebowski; but those are at tough levels to beat.
The casting choices of this film are just perfect. We have Josh Brolin, on a roll after turns in such recent films as Planet Terror and American Gangster, and Tommy Lee Jones in a performance that rivals his similar one as a cowboy in Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. But who everyone is going to be focusing on and who will no doubt be the centre of discussion after viewings of the film is Javier Bardem as the psychopathic killer Chigurh. The way he plays the character, his cold stare, emotionless face, intimidating dialogue and relentless nature is sure to have him stored in the memory of many-a-moviegoer, me most certainly included, for months to come. He is without a doubt one of the most memorable villains of the last fifteen years or so and I doubt he will be beaten any time soon.
Aside from the stellar lead cast we also have a host of supporting actors who all fill their roles admirably. Kelly McDonald plays the naïve and slightly dim-witted wife of Llewelyn, who factors in and out of the film here and then but later on becomes a bigger part, that’s all I’m going to say. We also have Woody Harrelsen, who works surprisingly well, Garret Dillahunt (seen in 2007’s best film The Assassination of Jesse James) and Stephen Root whose character’s name seems to be left out. All of these plus a plethora of other very recognisable faces are scattered here and there throughout various points in the film which always adds to the quality of a film as opposed to trying to have too many main characters on-screen for any unnecessary amount of time.
Having not read the source novel of the film I can’t quite say whether or not it sticks closely to it. But from what I have heard it does exactly that, some people even going as far to say it is one of the most faithful adaptations of a novel in cinema history. It’s the first time in the Coen brother’s careers that they have opted to adapt from another source rather than create the film completely from scratch. And as much as I love the stories they are able to create it was nice to see them try their hand at something new and for them to a put a fresh and different stamp on their style of filmmaking.
While the film is completely different from any of the Coen brother’s previous work it is still very much a Coen brother’s film. Laced throughout the film is their trademark wit and black humour, along with their skill of showing violence without glorifying it and of course at least one or two extremely memorable characters. For any big fans of the brothers’ work there is also a few homages here and there; such as the satchel of money (ala Fargo).
What is, perhaps, the most significant thing about this film is the scoring, or lack thereof. With the exception of the end credits, and a couple of moments of ambient tones, there is no musical score whatsoever. Although I have always loved the music that usually occupies the Coen’s work I welcomed this rare treat of having a film devoid of any music. This technique needs to be utilized by many more directors in the years to come. As a result of this the movie has a huge dramatic impact, delivering almost unbearable moments of tension that have you on the edge of your seat. It also gives the actors and dialogue the chance to be the main focus of the film, allowing the viewer to actually hear completely what is happening. The Coen’s recognise this music-less technique as being extremely effective and make the best and full use of it.
Apart from Javier Bardem the other thing that will factor in most people’s discussions about the film is the ending. Although I won’t give too much away some of the following may be considered as a spoiler by some so be cautious as you read on. There will be two sides to the audience; you will either hate the ending or think it’s perfect. I can’t quite say I’m on either side but if I was forced to decide I would opt to say I really liked it. It’s one of the most unconventional endings I’ve seen in a long time, to be so abrupt and completely skip over a major event is a bold move on the Coen brother’s part and for their sheer brashness I can admire them. It’s normal for someone to immediately think, “Is that it?” Most people will walk away maintaining that disappointment while those who choose to ponder it more will realize its greatness.
What may surprise a lot of people about the film is that the violence that takes place isn’t all that graphic. Apart from a few bloody moments (which aren’t all that bloody compared to some films I could mention) most of the violent acts happen off-screen or while the viewers attention is held somewhere else. Personally I think it gives the film a sort of classiness it otherwise probably would not have had.
No Country for Old Men certainly isn’t my favourite Coen brother’s film (that would be The Big Lebowski) nor do I think it’s their best (that would be Fargo) but it is still worthy of the Coen brother’s label a lot of film fans hold in such high regard. The attention to detail and moments of jarring tension are just a couple of things that add to the overall quality of the film. A lot of people may have a problem with where we arrive by film’s end but trust me; mull it over for a few days and I guarantee you will recognise just how well judged the film is. Oscars are bound to be thrown at the film when it comes that time of year again and I can’t say I would be upset with any of them.