By Marc S. Sanders
Joel and Ethan Coen have an odd collection of films under their belt. No Country For Old Men, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is no exception. You’re likely to meet the oddest hit man you’ve experienced in a film. (Reader, I’m going under the presumption you’ve never encountered a normal or odd hit man in real life. If you survived long enough to read this passage, you are truly blessed.)
Anton Chigrh follows a discipline that likely no one ever taught him. His code is to continue until he finds what he’s looking for and dispose of any lead in his ongoing quest. His weapon of choice-an air gun hose connected to an oxygen tank. It’s instant in serving its purpose. Its sound is quick and jarring.
Javier Bradem delivers an Oscar winning performance as Chigrh in search of $2 million when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) takes possession of it after coming upon the sight of a drug deal gone bad.
Tommy Lee Jones is perhaps one of the old men in the title. A Texas sheriff not surprised by the carnage he comes upon, but not of much use either. I think he regrets that he can never do more or better and simply can only surmise what’s already been done. I gathered that especially from a scene depicted in a hotel room during the third act of the film. His approach on the scene and his need to sit down translate that for me. His periodic anecdotes during the course of the film seem to say so as well. This sheriff has likely never rescued anyone from harm despite how intuitive he may be.
The Coen Brothers are never shy with blood. A lot of directors are not, really. Yet with the Coens, it seems the bloodshed is disturbingly honest. The instant splatter and flow following another act by Chigrh couldn’t be more truthful. They tell this tale very well, never concerning themselves with how unsettling they can be. Sun filled deserts are not comfortable. Evenings are sleepless. Blood is dark, thick, sticky, messy.
Moss is a hunter who has no idea what he’s up against. Brolin plays him with quiet reservation. He could not resist the urge to take the bag of money, but he also knows he’ll pay for it as well. When he realizes there’s no way to escape, by even crossing the border, he can only try to kill the devil incarnate. He’s likely aware of how this will all play out though.
Among this trio of fine actors (with Woody Harrelson also briefly in the fold), the film is nevertheless celebrated for Bardem. Whenever the story returns to Chigrh, you sit up in your chair a little more alert. He’s got disturbing dialogue exchanges with those he encounters and Bardem’s method makes you wish you never have to decide your fate with a coin toss.
No Country For Old Men is not an action film. The pace takes its time, invested in three men with respective histories who cannot change what their meant for. No incident will change their lifestyles. They are meant to be an assassin, a washed-up lawman, and a poor country hunter. Until they die, no moment in time will alter their caricatures. That’s what I took from the Coens’ Best Picture winner.
I appreciate its honesty.