One of the year’s most likely Best Picture candidates, No Country for Old Men is the Coen Brothers’ best movie in at least ten years and a morbid and violent tale that works on two levels, satisfying the thirst of fans who want a no-holds bar thriller and those want something more, something deeper.
The movie follows three main characters, Ed Tom Bell, an aging sheriff who has never carried a gun in his life (Tommy Lee Jones), Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who makes one really bad mistake (Josh Brolin) and Anton Chigurh, a killer that no one can fathom (Javier Bardem). The movie begins with Llewelyn discovering a slew of dead bodies in a drug exchange gone bad, and two million in cash. In a moment that defines one’s life, Llewelyn makes a decision that could cost him everything – he takes the money. With this decision, he sets in motion a chain of events, and one of the most psychotic, homicidal and intelligent killers ever to walk the face of the planet. Anton is ruthless and methodical, and enjoys killing with an air compressor. Overnight, Llewelyn finds himself on the run from this man, and there is no room for escape.
No Country for Old Men is a brutal and amazingly intense suspense thriller. The film truly does not let up from minute one, and is easily the most suspenseful movie since The Bourne Ultimatum. It’s not as action-packed as the Matt Damon spy thriller, of course, but the Coen brothers develop a sense of dread and foreshadowed doom that never goes away. Audiences should cherish a film that is both deep and has you expecting that things could go bad at any time, even in the middle of a subtle, seemingly innocent scene.
What really makes the movies are the performances, which are simply top notch. Jones is really good in a supporting role, though we’ve seen him play the small town cop many times before. Brolin, however, is terrific in his most important role to date. He brings a simple sincerity and surprising intensity to the protagonist role, and is a great counterbalance to the force that is Javier Bardem. While there are several actors who turn in Oscar worthy performances in the film, it is Javier Bardem who blows everyone else away. Bardem, a past Oscar nominee for Before Night Falls, is one of the best and most dynamic actors in the field today, and his turn as a psychopathic killer is sure to raise eyebrows. He is an intelligent monster if I’ve ever seen one, someone who roams around without any mercy or emotion, and he is the character everyone loves to hate.
Aside from being a top notch thriller, No Country for Old Men works on a deeper level. It has things to say and says them well, even if the message is extremely subtle. Maybe I found something out of nothing, or maybe the film does exactly what it was intended to do. At the same time, this deeper approach the Coen brothers take does backfire just a bit. The ending isn’t great. Some people will hate it; others, like me, will respect it but be disappointed by it. It’s not the way you want a thrilling movie like this to end, and after everything the Coens takes you through, you deserve something more. At the same time, the ending is certainly Oscar fodder.
Aside from a bit of a fizzle at the end, No Country for Old Men is still an excellent thriller, full of suspense, blood and violence. While it ultimately didn’t blow me completely out of the water, it is one of the best movies of the year and a serious Oscar contender, especially in the acting department.
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