Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Joel and Ethan Coen (script based upon novel by Cormac McCarthy)
Love doesn't make sense.
There's no rhyme nor reason to it. Love is illogical, pointless. Most of us attribute our love to the cumulative power of a bunch of tangibles adding up, somehow, to something wholly intangible.
Love has its origins in the deeper, more primitive recesses of our beings. This may, or may not, explain why sometimes a great fuck and a BMW will add up to love.
And so it is with evil.
Evil makes no sense.
We can seek to justify it or understand it or prevent it. Yet, evil, much like love, permeates those hidden crevisces in our souls and, more often than not, shows up for no rhyme nor reason.
Evil, like love, simply exists.
And so we come to "No Country for Old Men," the latest Coen Brothers mind-fucking masterpiece based upon a Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name.
I'm not sure if love exists in "No Country for Old Men," but I'm damn sure that evil exists in both places obvious and not quite so obvious...in people obvious and, yes, not quite so obvious.
Anton Chiguhr (Javier Bardem) is obviously evil even as he is, equally as obviously, the most principled man featured in the film.
Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is, perhaps, less obviously evil and, yet, is so overcome by greed, the desire for massive life improvement and the thrill of the chase that he too succumbs to evil.
Then, there is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a man who has been so weathered by his lifetime in law enforcement that even he is, on a certain level, evil by omission.
The beauty of a Coen Brothers film, virtually any Coen Brothers film, is that which makes "No Country for Old Men" so brilliant and yet so resolutely unsatisfying as the film winds its way down. The Coen Brothers, writers and directors for this film, don't judge their characters. In fact, with unflinching detail and grace, the Coen Brothers simply allow their characters to come to life and their stories to unfold.
It's unnerving filmmaking. It's brilliant filmmaking. It's disturbing filmmaking. It's for sure NOT market-friendly filmmaking for American audiences that are all too familiar with plotlines that wrap up nice and neat, characters who get their happy endings or, at the very least, the good guys win and the bad guys lose.
First off, in "No Country for Old Men," there are no purely good nor purely evil characters. Not even Chiguhr, who seemingly kills anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path, is completely devoid of goodness. Though, in Chigurh's case, sometimes that good is merely determined by the fateful flip of the toss of a coin.
"No Country for Old Men" opens with one of cinema's most powerful monologue's since Edward Norton's in Spike Lee's "25th Hour," and never lets up. It's a two hour exercise in nearly relentless suspense, thrills, moral decay and chase scenes that are, for lack of a better term, more psychological than physical in nature.
The film's story arc then begins as Llewellyn stumbles across a drug deal gone awry while out hunting antelope.
I suppose "gone awry" is putting it a tad lightly. There's a circle of trucks with bullet-riddled bodies strewn about...heck, even the dog has been shot to death. Inexplicably, one man has survived and it is Llewelyn's promise to the man that sets the story in motion.
Llewelyn discovers a satchel with over $2 million and determines to make it his own, while Chigurh determines otherwise and Sheriff Bell determines that he might ought to stop the carnage the best he can.
What follows is part cat-and-mouse thriller, part psychological expose' and, perhaps most powerfully, a series of universal truths about humanity, the universe, nature, evil, fate and a few things I probably haven't quite grasped yet.
Virtually everyone who is drawn into this story will have their fates determined by it, from a cocky bountyhunter (Woody Harrelson), a businessman who partly financed the drug deal (Stephen Root), Llewelyn's wife (Kelly MacDonald) and a variety of storekeepers and hotel desk clerks along the way.
Even those destined to be troubled by the film's not so resolute resolution will be utterly astounded by pitch perfect performances offered from the leads all the way down to the tiniest of roles.
Javier Bardem, who was Oscar-nominated for "Before Night Falls" and should have been for "The Sea Inside," should be looking at his second nomination as a disturbingly peaceful killer. Without a hint of histrionics or caricature, Bardem embodies Chigurh with the screen's most steady and frightening presence of evil since Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs."
Already having had a stellar year with "In the Valley of Elah," "Grindhouse" and "American Gangster" to his credit, Josh Brolin is remarkable as a Vietnam vet who seems to start out doing the wrong things for the right reasons before himself succumbing to his own primitive urges.
While Jones is on the screen less than Brolin and Bardem, his is the performance that holds the entire film together. Jones's Sheriff Bell is both soulfully aware of the evil that surrounds him and yet, sadly, rather resigned to it. He feels and exudes a sense of overwhelm at being able to even temporarily halt the evil that has crept into the underbelly of society and given birth. "No Country for Old Men" affords Jones his second award-worthy performance this year, and a lack of an Oscar nomination would be unconscionable.
The supporting players marvel, sometimes in the briefest of scenes, including Kelly MacDonald's quietly courageous performance as Llewelyn's wife, Stephen Root as an ill-fated businessman, Woody Harrelson's too cocky for his own good bountyhunter and Gene Jones, whose single scene is 2007's finest example of verbal jousting in cinema.
Carter Burwell's understated score is perfect, while Roger Deakins' cinematography is, as usual, framed beautifully and complements the Coen Brothers' script quite nicely.
As "No Country for Old Men" ended, I could hear the dissatisfied mumblings around me with people saying "That's not the end, is it?" Wisely, The Coen Brothers know the truth. The greatest films don't end as the credits are rolling...not at all. The greatest films are such a force of life and death, love and hate that once the closing credits begin to roll, the film's cinematic life has just begun.
The Coen Brothers have a 23-year history of making movies that seem to gain a life all their own once the closing credits begin to roll, some more successfully than others. "No Country for Old Men" is the greatest one of them all.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic