There is very little that hasn’t already been said about The Coen Brothers’ brilliant adaptation of Cormac McCarthy‘s apocalyptic novel, No Country for Old Men. The film offers a set-up that couldn’t be any simpler. Good ol’ boy Texan, Llewelyn Moss (played with tactful and effective gruffness by Josh Brolin) blunders into the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong and instinctively makes off with a satchel of money. This moment of greed unleashes an unstoppable, almost cataclysmic level of violence – which is personified in human form by Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem‘s iconic, Oscar-winning performance) and cannot be contained or understood by the foundations of our society (the justice system embodied by Tommy Lee Jones‘ beautifully realized Sheriff Bell).
In an aesthetic and thematic sense, No Country for Old Men (in conjunction with PTA’s There Will be Blood) represents a watershed moment in studio-produced American film-making in the 2000′s. The brothers’ cinematic talents are on full display in this film. One of the initial sequences (which serves as our introduction to Moss) showcases the brothers’ use of cinematography and thundering use of silence to immediately establish the searing indifference of Moss’s habitat. Also notable, is the film’s lone gun fighting sequence, where the film-making duo utilizes a powerful lighting design and the riveting sounds of the men’s gunfire to create a maximum amount of tension and dread.
The acting is uniformly excellent, with Brolin delivering the perfect everyman, archetypal character, railing against an almost Biblical level of fate. Jones skilfully crafts a character who is reflective of the anxieties expressed by the audience about the vicious level of violence existing both on and off the screen. Of course, the most memorable performance is Bardem’s. He plays a character riddled with ambiguity and is critical to the film’s rumination on the ubiquity of violence in America’s recent history.
No Country for Old Men’s powerful visuals, unique sound design, sublime acting and resonant script combine to produce a seminal American film. It’s an ambitious piece of work that engages in heady topics such as immigration, fate and our violent history. Finally, with the use of Bardem’s demonic Chigurh, the film transcends past being a simple story of drug violence in the 1980s. This is mainly through how it presents violence as being unknowable, unstoppable and ubiquitous. Appearing in an atmosphere dominated by existential dread born from a threat of terrorism, a disintegrating financial system and horror over a still unwinnable drug war, No Country for Old Men has a riveting sense of topicality. It reflects our time, ourselves.