No Country For Old Men

Rating 4

Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen

Written by Ethan and Joel Coen, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Tess Harper, Garret Dillahunt and Barry Corbin

While he is out on a hunting trip, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), stumbles across several dead bodies, the aftermath of a drug deal gone horribly wrong, and finds a case full of money, two million dollars. He tells his wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), to go to stay with her mother and wait for him. He then heads for the Mexican border, pursued by Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a relentless hitman who lives by his own surreal code, and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), an aging lawman on the point of retiring.

‘No Country for Old Men’ was seen as a triumphant return to form for the brothers Ethan and Joel Coen following their misfiring remake of ‘The Ladykillers’, which had been greeted with mixed reviews from critics. It received eight Academy Award nominations and four wins, bettering the success of their 1996 film ‘Fargo’, which received seven nominations and two wins. The Oscars were awarded for best director(s), best film, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor, for the performance of Javier Bardem.

It should be noted that ‘The Big Lebowski’, which many people now argue is their best film, was not universally well received on its initial release and received no Academy Award nominations at all.

The film incorporates many well-established and recognisable features of the Coen brothers’ work, both in terms of its storytelling (chance, destiny, freewill) and its visual style. A common feature of Coen brothers’ films is the way in which visual imagery is employed, making maximum use of the American landscape, both natural and man-made. The film is, without being overtly flashy, visually stunning. Very little background music is used, a striking feature of a film that harks back to 1970s-style American filmmaking.

The story unfolds at a leisurely pace and we slowly begin to feel that we know the characters, although at the same time they remain somehow just out of reach to us. Interestingly, the three main characters, Bell, Chigurh and Moss, exist largely in isolation from one another and, for the most part, do not appear on the screen together.

If the film has a fault it is that, in common with much of the work of Ethan and Joel Coen, it sometimes lacks an emotional centre, coming across as a piece of purely intellectual filmmaking. Also, having encouraged us to make assumptions about the direction the story was headed in, only to confound our expectations, it ultimately drifts along to its anti-climactic conclusion. Although this is not an entirely bad thing, it did leave this viewer with a rather flat feeling. The acting is excellent throughout and although nearly all of the critical attention was directed towards Javier Bardem, this should not deflect away from the other performances.

‘No Country for Old Men’ has a 94% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 211 reviews. It had a worldwide box office gross a little over $161 million. In addition to the four Oscars, it won 88 other awards, including two Golden Globes.

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