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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Movie Review: No Country For Old Men

Ever since Fargo and The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers seem to have gone down hill. However, they're back and better than ever. No Country for Old Men isn't one of their best films, it is their best film by far.

No Country for Old Men opens with a narration from Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). "I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job - not to be glorious. But I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand." Within the next five minutes, I know exactly what he means by that. The first time Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is introduced, he has been arrested and taken to the police station. While the officer is making a phone call, Chigurh quietly maneuvers to get his handcuffs from behind his back to the front of his body. After the officer finishes the call, Chigurh walks from behind and chokes the officer to death using his handcuffs. Using the deputy's car, he pulls over a motorist, kills him with a cattle gun and swaps cars.

Out in the desert, Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam veteran and welder, hunts for antelope. After failing to kill his target, he stumbles upon the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. Everyone is dead except for one man pleading for water. Moss finds the drugs and knows that there could be money around. He turns out to be correct. Pondering on the situation for a while, he decides to take it. Later that night, his conscience gets the better of him. He fills a jug of water and drives back to the scene of the crime. Unfortunately for Llewellyn, the man appears to be dead and two men in a pickup truck park next to his car (which he parked far away) and slash his tires. The men spot Moss and send him on a chase, even using their dog to attack. Moss escapes and tells his wife to pack so she can stay with her mother while he devises a plan to outsmart the men who are after him. One of those men is Chigurh.

Moving at a methodical pace, No Country for Old Men builds it tension to a level rarely, if ever, seen in a film. There's one scene involving Moss and Chigurh in a hotel that scared me to death. Chigurh, using a transponder, locates the room Moss is staying in. For about a minute or two, nothing happens, as each man braces himself for the confrontation. A similar situation happens between Chigurh and another character later.

The acting is nothing short of exceptional. The main and supporting actors are on top of their game. Josh Brolin is having a breakout year, acting in Grindhouse, American Gangster, and now this. Tommy Lee Jones' emotional range appears to be much greater here.

Although these two actors are great here, Javier Bardem steals the show.Anton Chigurh might be as frightening of a villain as Hannibal Lector, if not more so. His stiff posture, menacing stare, calculated word usage, emotionless expressions, unorthodox principles and remorseless killings make him appear to be not human. In some ways he is human and other ways more of an idea, like the embodiment of violence. He views his himself as a person carrying out fate and thus has a detachment from his victims. His background is a mystery because anyone who knows something about him is dead.

Artistically, the film is superb. Seeing the vast emptiness of the desert in the first few scenes recalls similar images in Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. The minimalist music score heightens the tension and allows every sound to be heard.The film's transition from an impressive thriller into philosophical territory elevates its lasting effect. There's a lot more to this than just the thriller elements.

Just as No Country for Old Men opens with a narration from Bell, he ends the film with one too. He describes a dream he has about him and his father. It may be the only optimistic scene in this very bleak film.

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