“The point bein’, even in a contest between man and steer, the issue is not certain.”
No Country for Old Men was produced, directed, and written by Joel and Ethan Coen, who have been making movies since 1984’s Blood Simple, and have given us such well-known films as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, among others. No Country for Old Men was based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, and released in 2007.
The story takes place in West Texas in 1980. The first three scenes introduce us to the three characters around whom all of the subsequent action revolves: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, Anton Chigurh, and Llewelyn Moss. In fact, we meet Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) even before the story begins, in a voice-over set against scenes of a West Texas sunrise, in which he recounts a little family history. Take a look…
We’re given no such background information on Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), whom we meet in the next scene. He remains as much of an enigma at the end of the film as he was at the beginning. Javier Bardem’s performance as Chigurh, for whom breaking one’s word is abhorrent but taking a human life is of no particular consequence, is one of the most chilling portrayals of psychopathy ever to reach the screen.
In the third scene, we meet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin): hunter, welder, Vietnam vet. Moss is a careful, capable man. While out in the Texas badlands hunting pronghorn antelope, he happens upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong, in which all the principals are either dead or dying. He follows the trail of the “last man standing” and recovers a case containing two million dollars. He is soon transformed from the hunter into the hunted, but as his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), says of him, Llewelyn “…would never ask for help. He never thinks he needs any.” to which Sheriff Bell responds ominously, “He needs help, whether he knows it or not.”
No Country for Old Men reminds me of the stories in Close Range by Annie Proulx. In both, we find the same hard-country settings, hard-bitten men, and mastery of dialect. In addition, No Country for Old Men is full of dashes of dry humor like this: “You think this boy Moss has got any notion of the sorts of sons of bitches that’re huntin’ him?” “I don’t know; he ought to. He’s seen the same things I’ve seen, and it’s certainly made an impression on me.”
This is easily one of the most thought-provoking movies I’ve ever watched. There is fertile ground for discussion regarding its treatment of the role of fate in our lives, symbolized by the repeated flipping of a coin. Or about the often-referenced disappearance of traditional values, and even the effect on those values of the Vietnam War, which ended just seven years prior to the events of the film. Finally, what are we to make of Chigurh’s cryptic question, “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”
It is also one of the most enjoyable movies, and certain to reward repeated viewings. Although it contains several violent scenes and clearly warrants its R rating, the overall impression that it leaves with me is not of its violence but of its realism and its humanity.