In “No Country for Old Men”, the territory actually proves tough for all–young studs, women and even canines.
The movie, a collaboration of well-established genius, an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy’s novel by the Academy Award winning Coen brothers, exceeds all expectations.
The impeccable production reflects the tone of the original story. It’s tight. It’s tailored. In a turn of the tables, the story plays better on screen than in print.
The dialogue runs as sparse as vegetation in the Texas dessert where much of this alternately dark and humorous saga takes place. It’s a community where people say a whole lot without saying anything at all.
The story belongs to Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) although he receives a minimal amount of screen time. The aging sheriff has grown weary and bewildered at the evolving nature of criminal behavior he’s seen in his tenure.
He reflects back to those who did the job before him, who didn’t even carry firearms. He senses something afoot, bigger than himself or those who commit the misdeeds.
This creeping evil has no discernable purpose. In its wake it leaves bodies, grief, and evidence of an indifference to the boundaries of human decency. The sheriff’s losing faith in almost everything he believed in or wanted to.
The most recent event involves a scene in the middle of the dessert, the only remaining life among bullet riddled bodies, dogs, and cars being hungry flies drawn to the decay; evidently a drug deal gone very wrong.
This tragic end proves just the beginning.
Preceding Sheriff Bell’s arrival, local hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the carnage, discovering a remnant of this little misunderstanding–a satchel with over a million dollars.
A smart, but poor man, he instantly recognizes his dilemma. He can leave the money and forever bemoan the lost opportunity or take it and enter into the uncontestable evil to which it is attached. Given the inevitability of remorse he grabs the loot. And if not for a slight twinge of conscience, a distinct handicap in the game that unfolds, he and his wife might have lived out their lives without worry on the Mexican Riviera.
By a miscalculation, he has irreversibly become a target of pursuit, the possible consequences of to which he has been graphically introduced. He begins to elude his pursuers even before they start to search.
But there’s no such thing as an adequate head start against Anton Chigurh (Academy Award nominee Javier Bardem), a master of human psychology, who simply calculates the options of his prey, like reading the tracks of an animal.
Chigurh, inhumanly cool, conveys a insinuation of evil personified; a character type not foreign to the writings of McCarthy or the fiction of the border region of which he so often writes.
The predator-prey pursuit consists of a strategic stalking–efficient and cunning on both ends
“No Country” is a slow burning thriller. The violence, never displayed past the point of constructive exposition, merely serves as punctuation for the sumptuous and masterful suspension spanning the actual confrontations.
Bardem, a deeply talented actor, seems to have a hold on dark souled characters, coming off a not dissimilar role as Brother Lorenzo in “Goya’s Ghosts”.
In ways that are subtle, this slow burning thriller might have been extracted from a gloomy interpretation of the book of Revelations. And indeed McCarthy’s next book after this one deals with a post apocalyptic world.
Significantly the Coens and Paramount Vantage give us an ending that in brighter times might not have been commercially viable. Currently it seems that the upbeat resolution is less of a requisite.
Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read other Examiner movie reviews.