The Coens’ latest instalment is thrilling stuff.
Director(s): Joel and Ethan Coen.
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald.
What’s it about? When Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) comes across a gang of murdered men in the desert, he soon discovers that they’ve left behind a stash of heroin and $2 million. Unable to resist, Moss steals the money and gets out of there, but before he knows it, he has psycho killer, Anton Chigurh (Bardem) on his tail. So begins a cat and mouse chase that will leave many new victims in its wake…
The Coens’ new film opens with a voice-over by Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Ah yes, voice-over: one of the oldest tricks in the book. Which is why most film-makers avoid it like the plague. Nevertheless, in ‘No Country for Old Men’, the Coens have adopted this and several other classic Hollywood tricks to good effect. What may seem like a slow moving film by today’s standards, is actually a refreshingly well told story replete with wonderful cameos by relatively unknown actors: In the scene above, Gene Jones plays a gas station attendant whose fate depends on Anton Chigurh’s (Bardem) coin toss and Kathy Lamkin is also highly amusing as the nail filing manageress of a trailer park where Llewelyn (Brolin) lives. This brings to mind another aspect of golden Hollywood: the character actors. Back in the 1940s or ‘50s highly talented actors such as Walter Brennan or Edna May Oliver could be found again and again in various movies, but rarely in a leading role. These character actors have now almost entirely disappeared but the Coens remind us again how the little roles are just as important as the main players. Without a doubt I can say that Bardem is terrific as Chigurh. His menacing voice and appearance will have you holding your breath every time he’s on screen, but even he could not create a scene as memorable as the one above were it not for Jones’ back up as the gas station attendant.
Chigurh’s decision to kill (or not to kill) the store attendant all depends on a coin toss. The method is crazy and inhumane but then that goes to describe almost everything about him Throughout the movie, his journey is mirrored with that of Llewelyn, thereby setting up a comparison between the two men. Llewellyn is a fairly tough guy but still no match for Chigurh: whereas Llewellyn collapses in the road after having been shot, Chigurh clinically removes a bullet from his leg and injects himself several times without so much as flinching. His ability to take pain and death in his stride sets him apart from the rest of us mere mortals, but the fact that he is a man remains and so he reflects what us humans are capable of and that in itself is as scary as any of his over the top weapons.
Meanwhile, Lee Jones role as Sheriff Bell helps us to understand why the Coens’ chose ‘No Country For Old Men’ as their title. An ageing sheriff, Bell is unable to keep up with Chigurh’s killing spree and spends much of his time drinking coffee and speculating on the state of society today. He is without doubt one of the ‘old men’ who are at a loss as to how to handle a character like Chigurh. Whether they mean to or not, in ‘No Country…’ the Coens’ are commenting on the world in which we live and the fact that we are not always in control of our own destiny or that which takes place around us.
Morals aside though, the Coens have achieved the most important thing here and that is entertainment. ‘No Country’ is the best film of the year so far and the best thriller in a long while. Aside from the memorable characters, great acting and witty dialogue, No Country also includes some clever camerawork that Hitchcock himself would be proud of. This comes to the fore in one of the film’s most nail-biting scenes where Chigurh seems to have finally cornered Llewelyn in a motel room. Typical sound effects such as footsteps and less typical sounds such as the beep of Chigurh’s tracker device are also used to create suspense and terror throughout this scene and the movie as a whole.
The Coen’s have proved to us that old tricks work best even if they have been given a modern edge here. This is drama, dark comedy and a thriller rolled into one with none of the flashy stuff, unlike the film reviewed next on this site: Cloverfield…