No Country for Old Men
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is a great film, though it’ll probably turn off a lot of viewers. It’s stark and violent, most of the characters don’t really talk much, and it presents an uncompromisingly dark and unsatisfying world view, with an ending bound to leave 95% of the audience scratching its head. Like the grumbly old guy next to me at my screening, but I digress.
Joel and Ethan Coen are a great filmmaking team whose films almost always underscore a view of the world as not inherently compassionate, as full of darkness and strangeness. They’re also known for a trademark quirkiness that adds humor and a kind of distancing effect to many of their best films. It’s very much to their credit that they play this one very straight and let it unfold the way it needs to be told.
The plot is a simple chase: An average guy in every sense stumbles over the fly-ridden corpses of a drug deal gone bad out in the wastes of Texas and takes off with the money—two million bucks. A relentless sociopath pursues him, and nothing good can be expected to come of that. Meanwhile, Sheriff Tommy Lee Jones thinks philosophical thoughts and doesn’t have any effect on the story at all, yet in the end sums up the philosophy of the film before the curtain falls.
That world view, by way of warning, tends toward the idea that the world is a cold and uncaring place, that evil triumphs most of the time, and the rest is just blind chance. Why even bother being a good man in the face of this? In his final two scenes, Jones gives us the clues, but mostly as metaphor, so you’ll have to think about it some.
No Country for Old Men is a tense thriller that is not going to cater to expectations, that has more on its agenda than the thrill of blood splatter, and brings a brilliant cast to the work of one of America’s finest living writers and its most important filmmaking team. You could wait for the DVD, but the sunbleached vistas of rural Texas are particularly affecting on the big screen.