Gumby77’s review published on Letterboxd:
The best film writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen have made in over ten years (and maybe of their entire careers) ... at least since 1996's pitch-perfect "FARGO". Their 2007 Best Picture Oscar Winning film of "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is a masterpiece of a thriller, as merciless as a livestock stun gun to the head, as sharp as a razor blade, and as confidently and sumptuously written as any genre classic one can think of. Moving forward with the steady unpredictability of a life gone terribly awry, the Coens' faithfully adapt an acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy, while making it very specifically their own. The tonal shifts from unspeakable intensity to snapshots of truth within human behavior and dialogue frequently within the same scene, are the work of real artists in full command of their craft. This was an incredible, terrific return to form on par with "FARGO" and other Coen classics, and it's the type of movie that can only get better over time with repeat viewings.
"NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is a very straight forward film (as I will explain further down) ... but in a variety of ways ... it is so much more. Its a film where you take a deep look inside three vastly different people ... with three completely different personalities ... from three completely different walks of life ... and driven by their own personal motivations, and see how their stories will ultimately converge as if fate had it planned all along. "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" works as a "plot-driven, chase-film", "character drama", and ultimately ... a "cryptic message" when looking deep into the strengths and flaws of one's own soul. Add to that some beautiful cinematography ... outstanding production ... and a bone-chilling, villainous performance that will stand the test of time, and "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is more than a marvel to behold ... it's a masterpiece by the acclaimed Coen brothers, that will likely be their cornerstone, benchmark classic for years to come.
Set in the off quiet, dusty towns and arid, sunny-drenched open landscapes of 1980 Texas, "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" goes to show that evil, as well as greed, desperation, and skewed attempts of capturing the "American Dream", can exist in any place at any time. It is here where we meet Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Vietnam veteran from Texas who comes across a drug deal gone wrong in the middle of the desert. He comes across a suitcase filled with $2 million dollars in cold hard cash. He promptly grabs the money and runs back to his trailer home and wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald), believing that he has gotten away with his actions ... however he soon realizes, he's made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. He then soon goes on the run to stay ahead of a relentless, ruthless, psychopathic killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who wants to get that money back. Following this chase between these two individuals is a local sheriff named Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who follows the trail of dead bodies left by Chigurh and tries to figure out who is responsible. With Anton leaving a trail of death in his wake and discontented county sheriff Ed Tom Bell eventually getting sucked into the investigation, Llewelyn soon comes to realize there is no escape from the decisions he has made.
"NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is an extremely "straight-forward" film with a very "straight-forward" plot outline. When you boil down this film to it's bare bones ... "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is very simple ... it's all about a man who finds an easy fortune and thinks he can get away with it unscathed ... but ultimately, he couldn't be more wrong. It's a "chase-film" that becomes even more increasingly violent, leading to make the viewer wonder what the true cost of greed is, and whether or not it is worth placing himself and ultimately his wife in front of impending doom.
"NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is an outstanding study in substance equal to its high style. With the characterizations consistently on-target, and the heightened suspense culminating in eerie, measured silences, the film graduates from being simply a well-made crime thriller into something that feels radically innovative. Tales of "stolen money" and "blood-drenched revenge" are nothing new, but just as they did with their past films of 1984's "BLOOD SIMPLE" and another of their greatest achievements in 1996's "FARGO", directors Joel and Ethan Coen use an archetypal setup to journey into territory that is as gloriously unpredictable as it is wince-inducingly bleak and uncompromising.
The script is impeccable and flawless, easily some of the Coen brothers' best writing, presumably taking Cormac McCarthy's best bits of his novel, and injecting their own flair for character dialogue. While far more serious in tone than some of the Coens' other movies, they maintain their inimitable way at getting us to look at the very dark and violent moments, and at the odd menagerie of Southern characters who cross the path of our three leads. With the timing of most of the events in the movie being equally obtuse, the Coens constantly keep us guessing what's going to happen next, which adds to the film's effectiveness as a suspense-filled crime-thriller of the highest order.
While "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is, as I said above, a "straight-forward" film with a very "straight-forward" plot outline (which is executed to near perfection) ... it is also a film that presents a whole slew of themes related to "human conditions" ... but in a very cryptic, symbolic way. When you watch this film, you can pick out themes that range from:
"Predestination" - (Llewelyn finding the money)
"Greed" - (Llewelyn taking the money).
"Morals", "Ethics", and "Guilt" - (Llewelyn not being able to sleep at night, and decides to bring water to the needy).
"Fate" and "Chance" - (Anton Chigurh and his "coin toss")
"Human Instincts" - (The hotel room scene ... when Llewelyn KNOWS something bad is coming for him as he waits in his hotel room)
"NO COUNTRY OF OLD MEN" also plays with "symbolism" and "foreshadowing" in a way that you normally don't see in films now a days. Things like ...
- In the beginning, Llewelyn spots a dog running away while hunting, that ultimately leads him to the money ... which only leads him to be chased by one later on.
- When Anton shoots Woddy Harrelson's "Carson Wells" in the hotel room, and the camera shoots down at his feet to see the blood come near his boots, he lifts them up and rests them up on the bed ... it foreshadows the ending (which is open to interpretation) when he walks out of Carly Jean's house and "checks his shoes".
- Josh Brolin's "Llewelyn" and Javier Bardem's "Anton Chigurh" asking for help when needed from two different generations of kids. Brolin on the bridge asking for a jacket from the teenagers ... Javier at the end with the young kids after the car crash. Could be a cryptic message the film is telling us in regards to the "nieveness" of different generations of people when we don't know when were helping out someone good or not.
- Woddy Harrelson also has an interesting bit of exchange with his employer early on and tells him ... "I looked over the plans of this building, but there is one floor missing" ... and the employer replies "I'll look into it". Could be a cryptic way of saying that Javier Bardem is the "piece of society" that is missing or you can't control normally, which is ultimately what he symbolizes in this film.
This is just a few of the many things that I caught in this film that have "secret meaning" behind it. Again, there are a lot of things to catch in this film, and the more you rewatch it, the more things you catch. Again, there is a TON in this film open to viewer interpretation.
Josh Brolin, as the sort-of protagonist "Llewelyn Moss", wholeheartedly embraces one of the best parts he's had in years. Though introduced as the hero of the piece, Llewelyn is arguably the most flawed character on hand ... a laid-back, blue-collar, rugged "Marlboro Man" and Vietnam Vet who sees a shot at a better life and jumps at it without considering the potentially fatal consequences. Josh Brolin is absolutely riveting in this film, carrying much of the first two acts on his shoulders as he shows his resourcefulness as much as his desperation.
Tommy Lee Jones, as the local sheriff "Ed Tom Bell", puts on a deep, passionate performance ... a man who is mystified by the expanding body count all seemingly done by the same man who killed his officer in the films haunting opening scene. Tommy Lee Jones is the "moral interpretation" of the film ... especially near the end (more on this further down) in a specific scene that is open to the viewers own interpretation. Tommy has two very important "voice dialogues" (one in the beginning, one in the end) that hold a deep amount of importance if you can see the thematic heft that "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" places upon you ... especially the one in the end. It can be seen as the ultimate expression of what Bell was struggling with throughout the course of the story, and the change of perspective that allows him to come to terms with his struggle.
However, the one performance in this film that will leave an impression on you, is undoubtedly Javier Bardem's (Oscar-Winning) performance as the evil, villainous, and haunting psychopath of "Anton Chigurh". Javier Bardem essays one of the most bone-chilling screen villains in recent memory ... a calm, collected, and absolute remorseless psychopath who sees the people he meets as nothing more than expendable cattle. Armed with nothing more than a "captive bolt pistol" which he uses to punch out locks, and a "sound-suppressed" semi-automatic shotgun ... whenever he comes in contact with someone, the viewer holds their breath, quite aware of the extent to which he is capable of. When you see him on screen with someone, you know it will not end well for the person he shares the screen with. Bardem is absolutely unforgettable in the role ... a film villain on par with Darth Vader, Anthony Hopkins' "Hannibal Lecter", or Dennis Hopper's "Frank Booth". It takes almost an hour before we even learn his name or his reasons for acting the way he does ... but all we really need to know about this man, is he is nothing but pure, unrelenting, evil ... a force that pretty much can't not be stopped, no matter how hard you try. Much about Anton is revealed later by a late player named "Carson Wells" played by Woody Harrelson, whose relationship with Anton is never quite clear. The most important information he shares comes when he points out bemusedly how Llewelyn is still alive despite having seen Chigurh, a rare occurrence. Kelly MacDonald as "Carla Jean", is far more integral to the story than one might expect at first, and in one particular sequence with Bardem, we see some of her best work.
All three men are extremely resourceful, making the film that much more fascinating to watch, and seeing them deal with the various situations that come up ... and you realize as you watch the film, all three of these men's stories will converge at some point in time ... and it does. It comes down to a haunting, bone-chilling scene when you see Jones' "Ed Tom Bell" return to the hotel where an earlier murder took place. Seeing the fear on his face when he looks at the "missing key hole", and realizing of what could await him on the other side of that door, will leave you on the edge of your seat. It's also an outcome open to immense interpretation in a variety of ways, and no matter which way you interpret it, you won't be wrong.
Technical wise, "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is gorgeous beyond words ... sublimely shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, and cut together with a surgeon's precision by editors Joel and Ethan Coen. Score wise ... there is hardly a use of a score at all, and that was one of the films most brilliant moves. Sometimes the greatest instances of tension and drama go hand-in-hand with silence rather than bombastic musical accompaniment.
Perfect example (as I already mentioned above) ... an unbelievable, cringe-inducing, breathless scene in which a frightened Llewelyn's intuition correctly tells him that something bad is on the other side of his hotel room door he is staring at. What follows is as scary, exciting and altogether haunting as you seen in any regular horror movie.
The final act of "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" goes in directions impossible to foresee ... and the Coen Brothers make a ballsy decision in leaving most of the major events occur off-screen. In satisfyingly trusting the audience to fill in the gaps themselves, the Coens' never waver from what has all along been a character-centric mood piece. After a subtle, deep, and poignantly performed monologue from Tommy Lee Jones, there is no question left as to what the film has been slyly, expertly leading toward. "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is a brilliantly executed film, that not only presents itself as a deep, rich, plot-driven film ... but also as a multiple layered drama presenting many themes of "human conditions", and how vulnerable we can be when we are not careful when it comes to "expecting the unexepected". Fate has something in store for all of us, but it is how we deal with it that is the most intriguing, telling, and soul-searching. "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN" is the masterpiece that attacks that and so much more ... its a film that gets better and more appreciated with each passing viewing you give it ... and ultimately, it's a magnificent triumph that only an acclaimed pair like the Coen brothers could give to us.