No Country for Old Men
The newest film from the Joel and Ethan Coen, best known for Fargo,
is based on the award-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. No
Country for Old Men has been receiving great reviews, and is now
winning end-of-the-year critic’s prizes of its own. It’s
certainly well acted and impressively shot. It’s also pretty
bloody. However, when it was over, I had no idea what to make of
No Country is set in Texas in 1980. It follows three
characters: Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who happens upon a suitcase
full of money from a botched drug deal; the psychopathic killer Anton
Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who is fast on Llewelyn’s tail, and Sheriff
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who is trailing both of them through the
border towns of West Texas. Chigurh is one of the most cold-blooded
killers in recent movies, blowing away his victims with some kind of
pneumatic rifle, without a trace of emotion or remorse.
Cinematically, the film is well done. A particularly suspenseful
scene involves Llewelyn in a dark hotel room, watching and listening
for Chigurh outside his door. Chigurh bursts in, and chases the
fleeing Llewelyn through the streets of the small town. Technically,
it’s a great scene, expertly photographed and edited, and eerily
silent without any background music.
Throughout the film, Sheriff Bell, tired and ready for retirement, muses
philosophically over all he sees. The Sheriff is like a one-man
Greek chorus, waxing eloquently over the rise in violence with the cross-border
drug trade; the meaning of life and the existence of God. The
Coens confound expectations when the final scene is not of a violent
confrontation, but of the recently retired Sheriff wondering about the
meaning of life at the breakfast table. The whole time, I
was wondering if a woman in the previous scene was dead or alive. For
whatever reason, after a suspenseful buildup, the Coens don’t inform
us of her fate.
Perhaps had I read McCarthy’s novel, I would have had a better
sense of what to make of this mix of violence and philosophy. Without
doubt, the rise of violence and the drug trade over the last few decades
alarms us all. The randomness of violence and fragility of life
are themes in the film. On two occasions, Chigurh forces his terrified
victims to call “heads or tails” while he flips a coin to
determine their fate. Yet, none of these themes is original, or
explored in ways that shed any new light on them. I left the theater
with more questions than answers.
So, while I enjoyed some of No Country for Old Men for its
technical merits, it added up to a very puzzling experience for me. I
did not see the greatness in it that so many critics apparently have. I
just wondered, “What was that all about?” If anyone
has a clue, please let me know.
Tom Condon, OP
The USCCB Office
for Film & Broad-casting classification is A-III -- adults.
Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires
accompanying parent or adult guardian.