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Overall Rating
4.44

Awesome70.97%
Worth A Look: 16.13%
Average: 4.03%
Pretty Bad: 3.23%
Total Crap: 5.65%

7 reviews, 82 user ratings



No Country for Old Men
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You Can't Stop What's Coming"
5 stars

Until now, the films of Joel and Ethan Coen have been explorations of cinematic genres and sub-genres that were often as much about the quirks and stylistic touches of their respective narratives–the true-crime melodrama of “Fargo,” the road movie of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the screwball romantic fluff of “Intolerable Cruelty,” the pointless “director’s cut” of “Blood Simple, The Director’s Cut” and the even-more-pointless remake of “The Ladykillers”–as they were about the stories that they were ostensibly telling. This is not a complaint by any means–at their worst (which pretty much remains “The Hudsucker Proxy”), they are still more inventive and entertaining than most current filmmakers working at the top of their game and when they are firing on all cylinders (such as their underrated gangster epic “Miller’s Crossing”), the results can be breathtaking–but it does mean that there is an unmistakable remove to their work that can be interpreted by some as a certain degree of chilliness, as though they were making films only from the head and not at all from the heart.

One of the biggest shocks of “No Country For Old Men,” their latest work, is the realization that this remove is nowhere to be found during its 121 minutes–instead of being a movie about a certain kind of movie, it is a simple and straightforward movie in which none of the elements seem to be contained within self-aware quotes. This is exceptionally strange when you realize that the film isn’t a self-created work like the majority of their previous films, but has been based on the 2003 novel by acclaimed author Cormac McCarthy. Despite being their first literary adaptation (or maybe because it is their first literary adaptation), they have left all their tricks and ironic jokery behind and the resulting film feels deeper and more personally felt than anything they have done before. The result is an astonishing work of popular cinematic art that is not only one of the very best films of 2007 but is also one of the very best that the Coens’ have ever done–it is easily their finest work since “Fargo” and probably their best since “Miller’s Crossing.”

Set in 1980, just at the time when the drug wars that had previously been contained south of the border were beginning to explode into heretofore unimaginable levels of violence in these parts, “No Country For Old Men” kicks into gear as amiable sad sack Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) goes out hunting one bright, shiny day on a bit of desolate West Texas panhandle. He isn’t very successful along those lines but he does come across something else–five 4x4's and a number of dead bodies left out in the middle of nowhere. When he goes down to investigate, he realizes that he has found the remains of a drug deal gone bad and while poking around, he discovers one badly wounded survivor, many pounds of heroin and $2 million neatly stacked in a travel bag. Ignoring both the wounded man’s pleas for water and, perhaps, the voice of common sense, Moss takes the money with him and squirrels it away underneath the trailer that he shares with loving wife Carla Jean (Kelly Mcdonald).

Moss does this not because he is a bad man or a greedy man–he is just an ordinary man who finds an opportunity for him and his wife to start a newer and better life literally at his feet and he decided to take it without thinking of the potential consequences. Hell, he even covers his tracks so well that even if there were potential consequences, there would be no plausible way to link him to the money anyway. However, Moss feels some pangs of conscience and later that night, he decides to return to the area where he found the bodies and money in order to help the one survivor. This is not a particularly smart decision for a man who has just made off with that much money to make–something that even he acknowledges–and it is this decision that more or less seals his fate. When he arrives at the scene, the survivor is gone but before he can leave, Moss is ambushed by a truckload of unseen gun-toting guys, not to mention one extremely tenacious dog, that chase him to the Rio Grande before he is able to make a getaway. Realizing that he is now in trouble, he convinces Carla Jean to go visit her mother while he gets out of town with the cash until things blow over.

In his haste to get away, however, Moss leaves his vehicle behind at the scene of the original crime and this sends two very different people on his trail. The first is Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), the low-key county sheriff who has become increasingly disenchanted with what he sees as a world gone increasingly wrong (“When you don’t hear ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ anymore, pretty much everything else goes”). Upon surveying the scene of the massacre, he realizes that Moss likely had nothing to do with what happened but he also realizes that the people who did will most likely be in pursuit of him as well and that they are people not to be trifled with. (“He’s seen the same things I’ve seen and they’ve certainly made an impression on me.”) He doesn’t know the half of it. It turns out that the people behind the deal have hired one Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) to retrieve the money. Chigurh is the kind of man who sets out to do a job and will not stop for anyone or anything until he is done.. After violently escaping from jail after getting picked up on a silly traffic violation, Chigurh begins to cut a bloody swath through the area in his pursuit of Moss and eliminates those who get in his way with a nasty compressed-air gun. Sometimes, just for fun, he will meet a complete stranger and have them call a coin that he flips in the air, not realizing just how much they are unwittingly laying on the line.

Based on the above description, devotees of the Coen Brothers oeuvre might be expecting “No Country For Old Men” to play as sort of a fusion between the neo-noir trappings of their electrifying 1985 debut film “Blood Simple” and their cheerfully goofy Southern-fried 1987 comedy “Raising Arizona.” Almost from the start, however, it becomes clear that the Coens are not interested in demonstrating how clever they can be with their idiosyncratic dialogue and elaborate stylistic flourishes. Like the terrain that most of the film takes place upon, the look and the feel is spare and unyielding and while there are laughs to be had, they are the kind of nervous ones that occasionally come up in an otherwise tense film in order to allow the audience to let off a little steam. This is something that they will need because once the unstoppable Chigurh sets off in pursuit of Moss, the Coens create and sustain a mood of almost unbearable tension that is occasionally punctuated by moments of genuinely shocking and startling violence. Although “No Country For Old Men” is by no means a horror film, there are scenes in it that are as nerve-wracking as any that you could name–one set-piece that takes place in and around a virtually deserted motel is a symphony of light, shadow, sound, movement and out-of-nowhere shocks that is so skillfully and scarily executed that it reminded me in a strange way of the legendary final act of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” in terms of both the consummate filmmaking virtuosity n display and its overpowering visceral impact.

The other aspect of the film that may remind viewers of a horror film like “Halloween” is that it offers us, in the form of Anton Chigurh, one of the most indelibly terrifying characters to ever grace the silver screen. Right from the start, when he manages to kill a prison guard and escape from jail despite being in handcuffs, we realize that he is a virtually unstoppable machine who knows what he wants–the two million dollars–and will quietly and methodically go to whatever violent lengths that he needs to in order to achieve that goal. And yet, and this is an aspect of his character that is perhaps even freakier than his way with his compressed air gun, he shares with Sheriff Bell, his unknown rival in the search for Moss, a certain courtliness and purity of purpose. He may be a monster but he is at least upfront about it and when he learns that the people who have hired him in the first place have hired a second man, the unwisely self-confident Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), he is quietly outraged that the people who brought him in now seem to have such little trust in him that they would actually dare to bring in another man to ensure that he doesn’t simply kill everyone and keep the money for himself. Of course, that is exactly what his ultimate plan appears to be, but they don’t know that for sure.

Because Chigurh is such an overwhelming force of monstrous nature without any visible signs of humanity or conscience, it would appear to be a difficult role to play but Javier Bardem slips into the part so completely and effortlessly that it is a little scary to see just how completely he has transformed himself simply through his performance. On the surface, he seems fairly bland and nondescript but there is always an uneasy feeling about him and when he lets the beast within suddenly rise to the surface, it is a frightening sight to behold. Early on, there is a messy strangulation scene and while it is a sequence that is filled with blood and pain, the most unsettling aspect is the look on his face as he dispatches yet another obstacle. In the past, Bardem has given some incredible performances in films like “Before Night Falls,” “Collateral” and “The Sea Inside” but his work here eclipses them to such a degree that I suspect that it will soon go down as one of the great screen performances of recent years.

Although Bardem’s turn is likely to receive the lion’s share of the praise, it is by no means the only standout performance in the film by a long shot. As Moss, Josh Brolin has a role that is almost as difficult to portray as Bardem–for the vast majority of his scenes, his character is constantly on the run and isolated from the other cast members–but he pulls it off beautifully with an oddly compelling combination of cunning, determination and the kind of intelligence that suggests that he is simultaneously smart enough to understand how much trouble he has gotten himself into and dumb enough to believe that he can somehow reason his way out. Woody Harrelson is very entertaining in his few scenes as the brash bounty hunter who knows full well just how dangerous Chigurh is but makes the mistake of thinking that possessing this knowledge alone is the key to survival. In smaller roles, Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (perhaps best known here for her roles in “Trainspotting” and “Gosford Park”) is virtually unrecognizable as Carla Jean, Garret Dillahunt plays Sheriff Bell’s deputy and gets off most of the funniest lines in the film (surveying a couple of well-dressed corpses at the massacre sight, he observes “These boys look managerial”) in a manner that makes them feel less like laugh lines and more like what his character might actually say in that situation and Gene Jones has one indelible moment as the gas station proprietor whose bland pleasantries towards Chigurh inspire a tense standoff between the two in which only one fully knows what exactly is at stake.

However, the other real keeper here is the performance from Tommy Lee Jones, an always-reliable performer who just seems to be getting better and better with age. Although he may not have the most screen time, his Sheriff Bell is essentially the laconic heart and soul of the film but the surprise is that he doesn’t approach the role in the brusque, no-nonsense manner that you might expect. Jones brings a vulnerability to the part that is surprising–instead of coming across as the determined type that Jones has played so well in the past, his Bell basically admits that he may be over his head in dealing with criminals whose savagery is beyond his comprehension–and after the main action has come to its conclusion, he has two final scenes, one with his former deputy (Barry Corbin) and the other with his understanding wife (Tess Harper), that are among the finest that he has ever played

Recently, there has been a lot of talk in film circles about the majority of the serious-minded movies that have come out this season haven’t fared very well at the box office. While this is true, most of these analyses seem to conclude that people aren’t going to see things like “In the Valley of Elah” or “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” simply because they are dramatic films and not because they are, as it turns out, movies that aren’t very good in the first place. “No Country For Old Men” may be as dark, bloody and fatalistic as anything that you will see this season but it has been made with such consummate filmmaking skill and grace that even the most Pollyannish of viewers are going to find themselves coming away from it deeply impressed with what the Coens have accomplished this time around. From the performances to the screenwriting to the cinematography (long-time Coens contributor Roger Deakins lends the film a visual style that is beautiful and haunting enough to rival his other great achievement of 2007, “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford”) to the inspired choice for a musical score (which I will leave for you to discover), there is not a single flaw with the film that I can think of and it is one that I am certain that I will return to over and over again. Under normal circumstances, I am loathe to use the word “masterpiece” in discussing a new film on the grounds that it takes years for such an appellation to be honestly earned. In the case of “No Country For Old Men,” however, I am comfortable in waiving this objection in order to declare it to be a genuine masterpiece.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=16240&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/09/07 17:41:26
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
5/21/15 stanley welles muscular, exact and thrilling 5 stars
12/08/10 Dennis Excellent film; you have to view it more than once. 5 stars
11/12/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess A decent flick, but doesn't compare to the Coehn bros. older films 3 stars
6/11/10 Flathead King A very entertaining film. 5 stars
6/01/10 User Name Once you open Pandora's Box, there's no stopping what comes spilling out. 4 stars
4/18/10 PAUL SHORTT COMPELLING AND WELL ACTED BUT LACKING IN SOUL 2 stars
3/05/10 dennis engelke kept me one the edge 5 stars
7/08/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* You have to watch it 3 times to finally say...ok this movie isnt that bad 4 stars
5/11/09 R Lan Repeating what everybody was said. A very good movie that was hurt by its ending. 4 stars
5/06/09 MP Bartley A tightly wound, precisely measured and overwhelmingly cruel masterpiece. 5 stars
3/26/09 mariah great movie but wasnt best movie of '07... 5 stars
1/27/09 LYNDON DOWLING FARGO....WITH A TWIST..... THE COPS DO NOT WIN ALL THE TIME, EVEN IN HOLLYWOOD. ACE CAST. 5 stars
1/09/09 Anonymous. chigurh was one of the weirdest movie killers ever. 5 stars
12/07/08 TheViper Stunning achievement, have watched it over and over. 5 stars
11/24/08 brian Has everything but a satisfying resolution. 5 stars
9/22/08 Charles Tatum Well done, but too many "Coenisms" 4 stars
9/17/08 Stu Amazing film with one of the BEST ENDINGS ever. Wildly entertaining and deeply haunting 5 stars
8/18/08 jonathantstorm ending sucked 1 stars
8/11/08 Jon G Definition of a Man Flick 5 stars
8/03/08 Saravanan Srinivasan Yet another brilliant stuff from Coehn Bro.Fantastic acting by Javier Bardem &Josh Brolin 4 stars
7/23/08 Ivana Mann That ending makes a Zen riddle look like a first-grade math problem. Absolute poo! 1 stars
7/15/08 Matt I know I'm not going to be popular for saying this...but this is a shower of crap. 1 stars
6/22/08 AnnieG Although not very unique, this film has some good lines and characters. 3 stars
6/12/08 Jayson One of the best. Ever. 5 stars
5/13/08 Yo Mama if that crazy cracker Javier came to my hood i'd pop a cap in his ass!!!!! 5 stars
5/05/08 Phil M. Afficiando Watch the bonus material first especially "Diary of ...". to appreciate the film itself 4 stars
4/28/08 guisada awesome 5 stars
4/14/08 Colleen Cousineau Terrible ending, other then that, a great thriller 5 stars
4/13/08 DG Based on Chaucers - Pardoner's Tale. Chigurh is death 4 stars
4/10/08 ravenmad i tell you, it was javier's hair cut that creeped me most. Awesome film. Intense. 5 stars
3/26/08 Mike Nice thriller, terrible ending, what in the HELL was {that} all about 4 stars
3/25/08 action movie fan no country for action fans-okay story, but too slow 2 stars
3/22/08 Joe Smaltz started out pretty good but ended with out an ending 1 stars
3/20/08 Nick T Riveting though the ending caught me by suprise but it made me think about the events 5 stars
3/19/08 The real ED Ed bob - people like you should have life violently revoked. Call it.. friendo. 5 stars
3/18/08 AD Moss represents Bell's father - 20 years younger than him, get it? 5 stars
3/18/08 RF Great movie. Brillantly Intense and brilliantly acted. Well deserved Oscars. 5 stars
3/17/08 Amit One of the few films that has value, only people with some intelligence can appreciate it 5 stars
3/17/08 Danny I have no idea what happened at the end. Overrated. 3 stars
3/16/08 Julie Total waste of time!!! 1 stars
3/14/08 Mr Hype Good... but the hype is silly, and undeserving to say the least 4 stars
3/13/08 daniel wolfe ending let me down,,,,,,great for 3 / 4 's of movie, but boring ending !!! 4 stars
3/09/08 Freddy A solid, involoving film that seems to lose impetus in the last 20 minutes 4 stars
3/05/08 Louise A well-made and gripping film - such a shame about the weak ending! 4 stars
3/03/08 ladavies The Coen brothers at the Oscars...idiot savants?? Great movie! 5 stars
3/01/08 mormor613 Not good for my blood pressure, but worth it 5 stars
2/18/08 ang Anton Chigurh one of the best villains/Great Movie but ending was crappy! 4 stars
2/12/08 Monday Morning Riveting, but seemed to end early - I missed closure on several plotlines/characters 4 stars
2/11/08 Stefan Great acting but uncanny and towards the end, totally unrealistic plot 3 stars
2/03/08 ad instant classic 5 stars
2/02/08 Quigley A masterfully crafted film. Will go down as an American classic and a Coen Bros masterpiece 5 stars
1/30/08 ronp the ending sucked. left too many doors opened. the rest of movie was powerful 4 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic Brutal and intense, its an enigmatic, metaphysical mindgame 4 stars
1/24/08 Mike O I don't know what the big deal is. 2 stars
1/24/08 synthman Another high water mark from American geniuses 5 stars
1/23/08 mr.mike Fairly weak ending keeps it from a 5 star rating. 4 stars
1/18/08 Buttley Great Film, extremely suspenseful and wonderfully acted. Enjoy your Oscar, Javier. 5 stars
1/13/08 JamieD Starts off masterfull, then limps toward the end and dies. 1 stars
1/06/08 NatalieH I loved everything about this film, the sountrack, Javier Bardem & Tommy Lee Jones acting! 5 stars
1/01/08 hardy campbell I am obsessed with this film, and I am NEVER obsessed with films. 5 stars
12/26/07 Vagile Superb 5 stars
12/26/07 Ed Bob Sucks big harry donky balls 1 stars
12/18/07 Tim O'Donnell Great movie--captures a great book 5 stars
12/14/07 Mike Erickson Suspenseful, Violent, and Funny - How they accomplished this I dont know 5 stars
12/11/07 Shawn Best picture of the year 5 stars
12/09/07 Edward Great - taking my son - it will be talked about years later. 5 stars
12/08/07 orpy Wildly entertaining! I love that bad guy! 4 stars
12/05/07 ES This will be a movie people look back on and think- ok, maybe it wasn't that good after all 3 stars
12/03/07 Bnorm Great movie, wonderful villain and is violent witouth being gratutious. the ending was bad 5 stars
12/02/07 george1039 Everything and I mean everything a movie should be 5 stars
12/02/07 Michael Thoughtful, violent, riveting. Brilliantly acted. 5 stars
12/01/07 Jefenator Joel & Ethan: Quit now - you'll never top it! 5 stars
11/28/07 bucslim The "I don't get it" crowd doesn't get it 5 stars
11/27/07 Patrick Go see this movie, now!!! 5 stars
11/27/07 Ole Man Bourbon A lot of fun to follow these characters. Classic movie. 5 stars
11/26/07 john wow, Mr. Brooks and Hannibal step aside, eh..thoughtful, fun, masterpiece..so fine 5 stars
11/25/07 David Vivat Flat and nearly incomprehensible 2 stars
11/25/07 R.W.Welch Neat script and villian. Trails off some towards the end. B+ 4 stars
11/19/07 Sully Javier Bardem=Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, he's that scary 5 stars
11/12/07 DonnyM Instant Classic. Cohen bros hit oil. 5 stars
11/11/07 reddye5 See this film!!!! That's all you need to read. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  09-Nov-2007 (R)
  DVD: 11-Mar-2008

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