I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job – not to be glorious. But I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. You can say it’s my job to fight it but I don’t know what it is anymore. More than that, I don’t want to know. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He would have to say, okay, I’ll be part of this world.
What No Country for Old Men Means to Us
Every time I watch No Country for Old Men it strikes me just how closely it resembles a straight-up horror movie. Obviously, a large chunk of that is down to Javier Bardem’s menacing performance as a psychopathic killer. The icy cold stare, hauntingly deep tones of his voice, and just plain weird haircut. To me, these factors make him just as frightening as Freddie or Jason has ever been. When you have Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin playing their parts to perfection, yet still being upstaged by Bardem, it really says something.
Aside from that, the film overall has such an ominous feel to it. Like something bad is always just around the corner. That’s what sets No Country apart from other films in the thriller genre. There is something more to it, something intangible lurking behind the scenes. And for me, it’s the Coen brothers magnum opus.
I first came to the Coen brothers through their comedy. Raising Arizona came first. After that probably came The Big Lebowski. It wasn’t until after I had a few of their films under my belt that I realized they were master filmmakers in practically any genre they touched. In a filmography that includes many good movies and at least a few great ones, No Country For Old Men stands alone as a definitive cinematic statement. Quiet and contemplative at times, violent and suspenseful at others, this film leaves an impression. It’s bold and it takes chances. It doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence and in return, gives them something deep and different. How many other filmmakers would kill their protagonist offscreen? Mixed in with the violence and suspense, there are still elements of humor. Anton Chigurh, cold-blooded killer, and force of nature, an avatar of death itself, gets stonewalled by a pudgy receptionist intense but ultimately amusing scene.
This movie left an impression on me from the first time I saw it. Not having read the book, it wasn’t what I expected. And honestly, if I had gotten what I expected, it would have been a lesser film. This story of a man in over his head, the cold-blooded killer who is tracking him, and the lawman on a collision course with them both sticks with you. It sure as hell stuck with me.
The Coen’s Masterpiece
The Coen’s have had several great films where different ones can be argued to be their best but for my money, this is their masterpiece and I don’t know if I will ever love another one of their films like I do this one. It’s a movie about greed, America, manifest destiny, cowboys, a nasty bad guy, and fate. The Coen’s adapted the 2005 critically acclaimed novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. In doing so, the Coen’s deliver a fantastic modern western thriller that gives us gorgeous imagery with West Texas, New Mexico, and Las Vegas as the backdrop. Utilizing chunks of dialogue ripped straight from McCarthy’s novel while crafting numerous engaging characters with arguably one of the best villains of all-time with inarguably the greatest mop haircut to date. The story of an unrelenting evil that generations of lawmen have never encountered before while he tracks his greedy pray just helps add layers to this simple story. Their ability to make everything seem subtle with an underlying boiling tension and brief explosions of violence simply help this a taut thriller from beginning to end. Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem are the stars of an incredible cast that is rounded out by Woody Harrelson, Gene Jones, Kelly Macdonald, and many more.
“You don’t understand. You can’t make a deal with him. Even if you gave him the money he’d still kill you. He’s a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principles. Principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that. He’s not like you. He’s not even like me.”
That is Woody Harrelson’s character Carson Wells describing the unrelenting killing machine that is after the main character Llewelyn Mos played by Josh Brolin. Death personified maybe the best way to describe this shadowy evil figure. Anton Chigurh may be the greatest slasher villain that isn’t in a slasher horror movie. The vision and execution of this character is truly unique. He is a non-descript Terminator with an awful haircut and uses a captive bolt pistol to kill his unsuspecting victims. He is of a singular focus and that is to get the job done no matter what. Javier Bardem’s stoic presence and ability seem completely empty but at the same time boiling underneath instantly makes this one of the all-time performances in movie history and an all-time villain. His menacing nature can be seen in all its glory with a simple back and forth scene with a gas store clerk played by the wonderful Gene Jones.
Fate, Morality, Nihilism
You don’t have to think too hard or dive very deep in order to recognize the themes of this film but one main theme that is constantly attached in the nihilistic approach of the film. We essentially only see one character who has anything going for him as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is intertwined throughout the consequences but never fully in the path of destruction. However, as we continue to watch we see his optimism stripped away. The other players essentially have terrible lives or are simply headed for disaster. The comment on life here can be seen in the appearance of structure in the film. The chase of Chigurh after Moss with Bell following along is all that there is. Once that materializes, there is an empty void.
The minimalistic approach to everything really help drives home the point of view nihilism. This means humble sets, few characters, and a lack of obnoxious ambition. Most characters are relatively soft-spoken. Deaths in the film end up becoming implied, all the more frightening after enough bloodshed has been spilled. Piece by piece, it’s as if the film disintegrates before our eyes. Less action. Less plot. Fewer characters. It dissipates in front of us, like a failing mind or beliefs fading away. No Country For Old Men doesn’t give up as much as it exposes the barrenness of life of the world it created. Cormac McCarthy was able to capture this in his novel and the Coen’s visualized it spectacularly. To me, this is one of the few perfect movies.
What are your feelings about No Country For Old Men’s? What do you think of the themes of the film?