No Country for Old Men

What it's about:

While out hunting in the Texas desert, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles onto the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad, and makes off with $2 million in cash. The drug runners dispatch a psychopathic hitman (Javier Bardem) to retrieve their money, while the local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) tries desperately to bring Llewelyn safely home.

What we thought of it:

No Country For Old Men is a deeply frightening film, not because it's about bad men doing bad things, but because it refuses to glamourise those bad men and their bad things. Instead it presents them with matter of fact clarity, transforming what could be a standard crime thriller into a meditation on the end of an era and an exploration of good and evil.

The whole film turns around its most uncompromising character, the psychopathic hitman, Anton Chigurh. In Javier Bardem's hands Chigurh is the most terrifying villain to come out of American cinema in several decades. With his deep, calm voice and piercing stare, he seems to suck the hope out of the other characters like a black hole sucks matter.

It's not just that he kills at random, or without emotion, but that he seems to barely be present for the event, firing bolts into people's heads and then gliding away serenely. He looks at the other characters like insects, cocking his head curiously, wondering when he will squash them. In one scene, digging shotgun pellets out of his own leg, he winces not in pain but in irritation – at the inconvenience of pain.

And while Llewelyn Moss may represent our hope in the story, the closest thing it has to a hero, it's really Chigurh's story. There's a sense that he belongs in this new world; that he instinctively knows how it works. The sheriff, played to laconic perfection by Tommy Lee Jones, is the polar opposite of Chigurh. He's a man from the old world struggling to come to terms with the moral apocalypse around him, and he most closely represents the audience in the story, searching for light but seeing only darkness.

For all its existential head scratching, No Country For Old Men is still very much a thriller, and a brilliant one at that. The film is like its weathered lead characters – quiet, measured, intense. There are passages of ten minutes or more where no one says a word, and there's not a note of music, but the tension is almost unbearable. It's a film of creaking floorboards, crunching footsteps and the deadly zip and ping of silenced bullets ricocheting off walls.

The film is a return to form for the Coen brothers, who have been turning out increasingly jokey and irrelevant fluff like The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty. The Coen's have always been obsessed with the darker human emotions of greed and hate. Even the brilliantly goofball The Big Lebowski was based on the noir classic The Big Sleep. But not since Fargo have they captured the essence of humanity's murkier side so vividly.

Arguably No Country is the Coen's best film, if not their most enjoyable; it's certainly their most technically adept. The cinematography is gorgeous, the sound design and art direction are both immaculate, and the editing pitch perfect. They may have lifted the pithy, slippery dialogue straight from Cormac McCarthy's novel, but they direct its delivery to perfection. It seems the brothers are out to prove, once and for all, that they are true auteurs in every sense of the word.

None of this makes the film any more enjoyable, of course. Oh it's beautiful and brilliant, but there's no easy satisfaction to it. This is art, not entertainment – it challenges and disturbs, it doesn't cuddle. No Country is like Chigurh – a self contained and flawless entity, true only to itself. We are merely along for the ride.

- Alistair Fairweather

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