No Country for Old Men (2007)
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper
Directed by: Ethan and Joel Coen
For around three-quarters of the Coen Brothers new film, No Country for Old Men, I was completely enthralled in their flawless presentation, convinced that it was not only the best movie of the year, but one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. Then came the final act, which was such an abrupt change from expectations and the direction of the first three-quarters of the film that it has left my overall impression of the movie in doubt.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad ending, or one that ruins the movie by any stretch. In fact, I’m willing to admit that given another viewing, I might even agree with and prefer the ending. But I can only go with the viewing I’ve had with which to judge the movie, and upon that viewing I can say that there were some choices made that I don’t think I agree with, with a jarring shift in the final act that left me scrambling to readjust.
Other than that, everything else in this movie is absolutely phenomenal, with the Coen’s attention to detail and masterful use of suspense flooring me throughout. The movie follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam war vet who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad while hunting, coming away with a satchel containing $2 million in bills. Taking the money puts him in danger, when hired killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is brought in to recover the money, while Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) follows both to find out what happened at the crime scene and perhaps save Llewelyn’s life.
I really can’t state enough how powerful the suspense is throughout this movie. I’d say things like “edge of your seat” or “pulse-pounding” if they weren’t such hoary movie reviewer clichés. The tension generated by Llewelyn’s attempts to evade Anton’s pursuit is truly remarkable, resulting in some of the most thrilling scenes of the year. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that one of the scenes with Llewelyn and Anton is probably the most genuinely terrifying scene of the year, owing largely to the way the Coen’s construct the sequence.
Bardem is chilling as Anton, a character you can expect to see pop up in “best villain”, “best hitman”, or “ultimate badass” lists for years to come. You should also expect to see Bardem holding a lot of hardware in the months to come for the supporting role. The entire cast is uniformly excellent, with Tommy Lee Jones showing each weary year of his character’s life with each wrinkle on his face. As with most Coen Brothers movies, it takes a few minutes to adjust to the rhythms and quirks of the dialogue and dialects in the movie, but the cast handles it well, adding to the overall flavour of the film.
Going in, my expectations for this movie were sky high. Reviewers have been very high on it, and I was very excited to see the Coen’s return to form with this venture into modern western noir. For most of the movie, my expectations were met or exceeded, with only a slight mis-step near the end, one that played so much with the expectations I’d developed while watching the movie that it might even be a secret success. No Country for Old Men is definitely the work of the Coen Brothers at the top of their games, a work I look forward to re-examining again in the future.