Review: Coen Bros. masterful ‘Country’

With his ludicrous comb-over haircut, Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) looks like an escapee from “Dumb and Dumber.” If you spotted him on the street you might be tempted to laugh, at least until you took in his massive jaw line and cold-fish eyes, and then you’d want to move away quickly. Turns out he is Death personified. The compressed air gun and portable tank he carries are merely accessories.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a hard-scrabble welder by trade and a hunter by instinct, seems to have all the survival skills he needs to handle any tough Texas border town scrape. Nothing complicated, just plenty of animal cunning. He wears his grit like a new pair of Tony Lamas.

On the other hand, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), sheriff of Terrell County, reminds us of one of those old boys shooting the bull in front of the bait shop in any small town in the USA. You’d imagine his best years are behind him, but don’t underestimate his ability to size up the situation and take decisive action in two seconds – the space between living and dying.

Then there’s Carla Jean Moss (Kelly Macdonald), Llewelyn’s trailer-trash wife, who has a built-in resistance to doing what she’s told. Llewelyn is unshakably devoted to her. And Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), a bounty hunter who knows Anton well. And then there’s the suitcase full of hundred-dollar bills.

Welcome to “No Country for Old Men,” an absolute masterpiece by Joel and Ethan Coen and their best film since “Fargo.”Many storytellers, novelists, filmmakers, and musicians have visited the harsh West Texas desert country, but the Coen Bros., adapting Cormac McCarthy’s novel, manage to wade into prime Jim Thompson/”Rolling Thunder”/”Natural Born Killers”/”The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”/”Blood Simple” territory and populate it, Coen-style, with a remarkable cast of scuffling lowlifes and one honest person – very much the way they transformed the Northern Plains in “Fargo.” Think of it as a flat-world, free-trade, cinematic corrido, brilliantly shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins and cut by the Coens’ legendary editor, Roderick Jaynes.

Nominally at stake is a fortune in narcotraficante money left in the wake of a massacre, but Jones’ Sheriff Bell and his old-school law enforcement compadres recognize the ugly brutality (this is probably the Coens’ most violent film) as something more sinister, and refer to it in oddly biblical code. “Signs and wonders,” mutters Bell. “The dismal tide,” agrees his friend. The Coens, McCarthy, and their cast make more or less the same points as “In the Valley of Elah,” only better, more intelligently, with considerably more grace, wit and blood. Things are weird and getting weirder, podner.

CREDITS

No Country for Old Men

****

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Tess Harper

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

Rated R

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

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