#234 – No Country for Old Men (2007)

From 859,288 votes, No Country for Old Men has a rating of 8.1 on IMDb. Spoilers inclusive as the spoilers definitely affected what I thought of the movie.

Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.

Of the films on the list that I’ve reviewed so far, No Country for Old Men is the third one of the special category “Films everyone has heard of but I had never watched until now” along with Groundhog Day and The Terminator. Possibly also Stand By Me.

I liked this film, upon reflection. While I found the entire piece a satisfying romp through the gritty side of Americana, it is the acting that props the movie up to the heights it has reached. I gather that Tommy Lee Jones (one of the titular Old Men) can do absolutely no wrong when it comes to making acting choices in front of a camera – he’s one of those utterly magnetic personalities. He plays a sheriff quickly coming to despise the place he lives thanks to the spreading crime and violence. While he is the narrator of the story, he really serves mostly as a framing device with no great impact on the story’s events.

Instead, the movie itself really seems to set up a different character as its main protagonist, Llewellyn Moss, played by Josh Brolin. Eternally rugged and handsome, this guy apparently played Big Purple Hitler or whatever in Avengers: Endgame. Who knew? Not me. In No Country Brolin plays an action hero with all the trappings: big gun, on the run, doesn’t know the meaning of fun. He is a Vietnam veteran able to stand up to the movie’s big villain: Anton Chigurh. The movie kicks into its plot when Moss finds and claims the leftovers of a drug done gone bad – a briefcase full of money. His insistence on keeping this money is what sends Chigurh after him and ultimately leads to his demise.

His hair is fucking stupid.

Robert Thompson, regarding Anton Chigurh’s unfortunate hairstyle.

Javier Bardem plays the hitman villain of No Country, a man possessing a bad haircut, a sadistic streak and a particularly brutal arsenal consisting of a silenced shotgun and a cattle gun which he uses to deliver very graphic death. The opening scene featuring a horrific garrotting really sets the tone for what is to come, and I imagine it was super intense for a movie released in 2007. From then, Chigurh goes on a roaring rampage of death through Texas ending lives at his own whims – a spectacularly memorable and tense scene shows him force a gas station attendant to call the results of a coin flip. We don’t explicitly know what’s at stake but we can very comfortably predict that had the attendant been unlucky, he would have lost his life. He is an imposing, scary presence who carries an aura of tension with him wherever he turns up. A perfect villain for a movie like this.

The sound of the shotgun firing will stay with you long after the movie finishes.

Rounding out the cast are Kelly Macdonald playing Carla Jean Moss – Llewelyn’s wife – who gives a great performance at the end of the movie standing up to Chigurh, and Woody Harrelson playing Carson Wells – a hitman hired to track down the money and eliminate Chigurh – who meets his end to his target. Harrelson to me was always either the goofy Woody from Cheers and Frasier, goofy Nathan from Will and Grace, or goofy but depressing alsmot-comic relief Haymitch from The Hunger Games. His character here is quite a difference – and also a little weird, considering Harrelson’s real-life father was in prison for being an actual hitman.

Finally moving on to the plot itself: it moves quite quickly. The characters themselves rarely ever stay in one place at a time, forced into a high-stakes chase that ends up pushing them over the southern border, and the excitement builds as it seems like Chirgurh is closing in on Moss time and time again. We get thrilling shootouts and bystander murders and bad driving… And then what would have been a great climax happens off-screen. We’re shown a despondent sheriff break the news nonverbally to Carla that Moss died in a shootout with Mexican drug runners, and suddenly the high-tension chase across the border that makes up most of the movie has ended.

The film then pivots into a wrapping-up that sees Chigurh closing the case with Carla’s death and escaping, presumably scot-free, and the sheriff pontificating about violence and the speed at which times are changing. It’s quite an abrupt change of pace and while it works in some places, I felt a little bit let down. I didn’t find the sheriff a terribly interesting character despite the wonderful performance, and while the shock of Llewelyn dying offscreen is impactful, it leaves the rest of the movie feeling rather disjointed.

This feels like a meme image. I’m sure it’s a meme image.

Overall, I found the movie very watchable. It’s not the type of story I ever find myself excited for but I can see why it’s one of those well-respected experiences that deserves its plaudits. It’s a masterclass in atmospheric, moody acting and anxiety-inducing action beats, but it doesn’t have me thirsting for more. One of those movies I’m glad to have watched, but probably not going to watch again.

Verdict: perfectly serviceable – give it a go.

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