No Country for Old Men - 2007
Director(s): Joel and Ethan Coen
Writer(s): Joel and Ethan Coen (screenplay) / Cormac McCarthy (novel)
Cinematography by: Roger Deakins
Editor(s): Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Root and Garret Dillahunt
Look, I’m not breaking any ground here by picking this as a “Modern Classic”. This movie has won 76 awards (109 nominations) from multiple organizations, including the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director(s), Best Supporting Actor (Bardem) and Best Adapted Screenplay. But they put it on Netflix and I haven’t seen it in a while and now you are reading this. Let’s just jump in.
The story follows three men headed on a collision course. Vietnam Vet Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) stumbles on a drug deal gone bad while hunting in the desert and decides to take the two million dollars left behind in a brief case. Hitman and “bob-haircut” enthusiast Anton Chigurh (Bardem) is hired to track down the money and kill whoever stole it from his employers. And finally, the sheriff that is days away from retirement, Tom Bell (Jones), is trying to get to Moss before things get out of hand.
These three men represent the spectrums of morality in our society. Bell is the old-school way of thinking, in where his actions and views on the world are driven by a strong sense of what is right and wrong, always holding up his moral compass to lead the way. Chigurh is the absence of morality as he is a true psychopath that loves creating chaos and killing anybody that asks him a question. And Llewelyn is where most of us live, the grey area in where we rock back and forth as each action pushes us one way or the other. Seeing how Llewelyn’s actions, of taking the money and coming back to give water to the surviving drug dealer, land him in the cross fires of Chigurh is an entire movie on its own.
This is probably Joe and Ethan Coen’s most gritty and tension-filled movie they have ever made. It’s also their most restrained as their dark sense of humor barely seeps into the script. With a minimalistic score, the Coens created a world where every single noise and every uttered word is just another drop in the tension bucket we carry as soon as Llewelyn picks up the money. The violence isn’t glorified but they don’t shy away from it as there are multiple shoot-outs, death scenes and car chases that occur through this cat and mouse game. The sequence that always stands out for me is when Llewelyn is waiting for Chigurh to come through the motel door. The anticipation and the breaking of the tension with the sound of the cattle gun blowing the door-lock followed by the guns going off is executed perfectly.
Quick note: the masterful eye of Roger Deakins behind the camera and his lighting and blocking are perfection. Despite this movie being shot mostly in the shadows of the night, you wouldn’t call this movie dark or uninteresting as he plays with the light source in a way that draws your eyes to exactly what you should be paying attention too.
This movie also bolsters three powerhouse performances. Josh Brolin plays a lovable-yet-hard man ready to do whatever is needed to save himself and his wife. Tommy Lee Jones delivers his patented performance of the stoic voice of reason, trying to do right by the people he swore to protect. His line delivery for the closing scene of the movie stays with you as the credits role. But Bardem’s portrayal of a cold, calculated killer that is always in complete control in every confrontation he finds himself in is by far the best of the three. You can see that he is in his environment, that the blood, gunfire and explosions are his idea of a perfect day. His conversation with the owner of the gas station is scary and tense and I can’t imagine playing a game of coin with this grim reaper.
No Country for Old Men is a slow, tense ride that leaves the audience wanting more of a happier ending, but it lives in the reality that death is the only certainty in this life. With the Coen’s steering into the violence as a matter of fact in our lives it makes the sequences that more impactful. The gunshots, the blood and the chaos looks so nonchalant that is jarring and unnerving since it doesn’t feel like a movie. These elements are elevated by great performances from their leads and by the masterful touch from Deakins. I’ve watched this movie countless times and I never get bored. The Coens are why I love movies.
No Country for Old Men is currently streaming on Netflix. Do it!
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