Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. USA. 2007.

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“The world grows cold. The heathen rage. The story's told. Turn the page.” – Cormac McCarthy 

No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers’ brilliant adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s bloody lament for a vanished America, hits the ground running. A prisoner, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), turns himself into the police then strangles a Sheriff’s deputy with the chain of his handcuffs and escapes. Stealing a police car, he pulls over a driver and murders him with a device used for slaughtering cattle. In the author’s words, "He placed his hand on the man's head like a faith healer, the pneumatic hiss and click of the plunger sounded like a door closing." That is only the beginning of the myriad violent deaths in this dark and brutal saga that is without any sympathetic characters, just the hunter and the hunted, each, however, with a kind of integrity that hints at redemption beyond the apocalypse.  

Set along the Texas-Mexico border in 1980, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a welder and Vietnam veteran hunting antelope near the Rio Grande stumbles upon dead bodies and abandoned vehicles, the result of a drug deal gone badly. Fully aware of the risks but with the clarity of John Grady Cole, Moss takes a suitcase filled with two million dollars and heads out in his truck. Thinking about a dying man's request for water, Moss returns to the scene, however. It is not long before he is discovered, shot at, and forced on the run for the remainder of the film. Pursued by Chigurh and the men who want their money back, the film becomes a tense chase thriller with an uncertain outcome.  

To add to the closing net, Moss is also tracked by a discouraged sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and Carson Wells, a hired representative from the drug cartel (Woody Harrelson). As he tries to escape, he must also protect his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) from threats from the sadistic killer who kills because it is there. "I'm not sure why I did this”, Chigurh says, “but I think I wanted to see if I could extricate myself by an act of will. Because I believe that one can. That such a thing is possible.” He considers himself the representative of fate. “Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased.”  

In a film in which all the performances are universally excellent, Bardem stands out as the screen’s most implacable villain in many years, conveying an unrelenting sense of menace even though we never get beneath the surface of his character. As he struggles against what the film calls “the dismal tide”, the reflective Sheriff Bell can only ask in Jones’ twangy voice, “Who the hell are these people?” His granddaddy only had to deal with cattle rustlers but now there are drug dealers to whom casual killing is a way of life. He says, “I ain’t sure we’ve seen these people before. Their kind.” Bell is not a pessimist. He is simply exhausted and feels powerless.  

“I don’t know hat to do about em even”, he ruminates. “If you killed em all they’d have to build an annex on to hell”. Relentless in its heartbreaking sadness, No Country for Old Men is a powerful and uncompromising film, a lament for what America has lost and an outcry against what it has become, a society inured to violence where murder and rape is a coin toss and war is an event that is woven into the fabric of our life.  


Howard Schumann
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