January 9, 2008

No Country For Old Men review
No Country For Old Men

Matt: 5 Stars

Length: 122min


There Are No Clean Getaways.
There are no laws left.
You can’t stop what’s coming.
One discovery can change your life. One mistake can destroy it.

Précis: A masterful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s philosophical novel on human violence and one of the best films of the year.

Review by Matt:

The first thing we see in No Country For Old Men is the vast Texan desert. It’s joined by the voice of old Sheriff Bell ruminating on the world’s inexplicable and wearying violence, and it seems a barren and godless place. From these opening shots, the Coen brothers – Joel and Ethan – have translated the meditative mood of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel into perfect cinema language. No Country For Old Men is in one way a tense crime thriller, telling the story of a man who nabs some money and flees from someone who wants it back. This fast-paced plot alone is thrilling viewing. But No Country For Old Men is also a poignant existentialist allegory about violence and morality. Adapting McCarthy for the screen, the Coens have made a film with action and suspense, dark humour, and a literate philosophizing soaked right through it. It’s a stand-out cinema experience.

Harsh as the Texan desert is, we soon see that it is not the landscape that makes it ‘no country for old men’. The desert is beautifully filmed, dwarfing its characters, but like the apocalyptic wasteland in McCarthy’s recent novel The Road, this environment is only symbolic. A few minutes in and we’re shown the first cold killing. Nope, it’s the humans that are the makers of this threatening world.

First there is Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a no-fuss local cowboy. He pushes the plot into gear when he stumbles upon a bloody tableau in the desert. It’s a drug deal gone wrong. The drug lords lie slaughtered, leaving behind an unclaimed suitcase of two million dollars. Llewelyn decides to take the money. That very quickly summons up the demonic Anton Chigurh, an implacable bounty-hunter with a unique set of killer’s principles and a fondness for chance. He’s after Llewelyn and the cash. Javier Bardem plays Chirgurh with an unnerving calmness and a frightening grin. Chigurh is an almost unfathomable character, not just for his violence, but also his vampiric appearance and puzzling speech. In one of Cormac McCarthy’s earlier novels, Blood Meridian (which will be Ridley Scott’s next film), a character laments at humankind’s aptitude for evil and violence: “when God made man, the devil was at his elbow. Man can do anything, make machines… and evil!” Chigurh is this resourceful evil personified. His favoured machine is a compressed air tank and a cattle bolt gun and he is happy to drop innocents who get in his way.

It’s not long before Llewelyn is on the run with Chigurh inexorably nearing like a brewing storm (the design of the movie poster is right on). The resulting cat-and-mouse chase through the dark and decrepit hotels of small town Texas is gripping. The Coens meticulously construct scenes that trap us in the head of Llewelyn. Suddenly the pace slows, we hear every creak in the scoreless silence and we see every ominous shadow. The Hitchcockian suspense piles on, and the bodies pile up.

A number of other characters spin in and out of the chase (most notably, a slick second bounty hunter played by Woody Harrelson), but the third point of the triangle is Sheriff Bell, played reliably by Tommy Lee Jones. Bell follows just behind the action, sober and troubled like a rescuer arriving after a tsunami. His perspective cements the existentialist theme; he’s just one small man facing a tide of violence. How to deal with it? Following McCarthy’s book, the film gives considerable attention to this angle, which defies our thriller-genre expectations, but articulates the human themes nicely.

It might sound like No Country For Old Men is gloomy. Necessarily, it is a bit. But the Coens also give us some humorous relief. At one moment when Llewelyn is chased by a ferocious dog, he leaps into a fast moving river to escape. The dog leaps in after him and they both float and look at each other helplessly, unable to do any chasing or escaping. There are other laughs too, some from the Sheriff’s country wit and some from the unexpected twists. And nothing is gratuitous (see Eastern Promises or Death Proof for wanton bloodshed); by the conclusion it feels like we’ve been whispered a quiet secret that will haunt us later when we reflect.

No Country For Old Men is a film that has caused robust debate on internet movie forums since its release. Not only are people debating its meaning, they’re arguing about whether it is in fact the ‘best movie of 2007’ or the ‘worst movie of 2007’. Those arguing that it is a failure seem to long for the standard goodie vs baddie thriller and are irked by the elements of the film that stray from the formula. There’s plenty of convention to see elsewhere in Hollywood. No Country For Old Men is unique, intelligent, masterfully constructed and very entertaining. In this humble reviewer’s opinion you would do well to find a better film released in 2007.



  1. This movie was stunning! I can’t believe how frightening Chigurh was! I can still hear his croaky voice. Brrr!

  2. Can someone give more of a breakdown of what no country for old men is about? I don’t think I really get the philosophy thing. it was kind of confusing. i’m also not sure who died exactly.

  3. Can anyone tell me…..do any dogs die in this movie? I know its ridiculous…..I can watch people get killed and not flinch, but if a dog gets killed it drives me from the theater in tears…….
    thanks for your help!

  4. Yes, a number of dogs die – I think three at least. You only see one of the dogs actually be killed though, and it’s an extra nasty dog. So maybe you can handle that. 🙂

  5. There’s also a wounded dog bleeding badly and limping away into the desert in an early scene. That actually made me sad and I had to remind myself that they just hired a dog with a limp for the part.

  6. After you see this movie there is a lot to talk about and a lot more to think about. Dogs are not high on the list.

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