MOVIE: No Country for Old Men (2007)

This past weekend, I saw two movies that featured similarly disturbing and emotionless violence (and then, thankfully, I watched Scarecrows, which provided some much needed comic relief).  This was the second one — I’m still attempting to process the first mentally before I try to write about it (gimmie one more day. . .).

This brilliantly-paced and beautifully-filmed movie, the latest by the Coen Brothers, is about a bunch of bad guys in the desert chasing each other over a bunch of stolen drug money.  Well, that’s the short version, anyway. 

Here’s the long version:  Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, who really needs to do a romantic comedy next, if you ask me) is out hunting one afternoon when he comes across a peculiar sight — a group of about five pick-up trucks parked in a scattered circle on the valley below him.  He decides to head down to check it out, and our first inkling that he’s no ordinary guy comes when he gets closer to the scene, sees that it’s riddled with dead bodies, and doesn’t even bat an eyelash.   Perhaps he’s a man who’s seen this sort of thing before?  Methinks he is.

After poking around a bit, he finds A) a man who is still alive and begging for water; and B) a flatbed full of heroin.  A few minutes later, he also finds two million dollars in cash inside a suitcase next to another dead guy.  He takes the cash and heads home, and our first inkling that maybe he’s not ALL bastard comes when later in the evening, he’s apparently touched by a sense of guilt about leaving the thirsty near-death guy behind without helping him, and he fills a jug with water and heads back.   Knowing full well how thoroughly dumb (in other words, dangerous) that decision was.

While all this is going on, another story has begun to run on a parallel track.  This one features a quiet man with a VERY silly haircut named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who carries around a tank of compressed air with a cattle stun gun attached to it.  When people get in his way, he puts the gun up to their head and pulls the trigger, releasing a blast of air that shots a metal rod into their skulls and then pulls it back out again.  PfftPOW!  The first murder of this nature made me gasp out loud, I will confess — damned if I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.  But eventually, we get used to it, as the bodies slowly start to pile up.  It soon becomes clear this quiet man is a hired killer out to get that money back from Moss, and he has absolutely no intention whatsoever of doing anything besides just that. 

The bulk of this movie involves Moss scurrying from one hotel room to the next trying to elude Chigurh, while Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) follows closely on both their heels (although, alas for the many victims of Chigurh, not closely enough).   One of the things that struck me about these chase scenes was the speed with which Moss would run and the emotionless, steady plod of Chigurh behind him.  My first thought was, naturally, of Jamie Lee Curtis vs. Michael Myers in Halloween — she runs, he plods, and yet he always, ALWAYS catches up.  Is there anything more terrifying than a killer who isn’t in a hurry?  Who is so confident he’ll eventually take care of you that he’s perfectly content to move at a comfortable pace?

Actually, yes, there is.  Because, as with the other movie I saw this weekend that I haven’t reviewed yet, the truly terrifying thing about Chigurh isn’t really his confidence in getting the job done — it’s our complete inability to comprehend him as a “normal” human being in any way whatsoever.  He’s not even “evil,” really — that implies some sort of passion for doing wrong.  He’s just. . . nothing.  He’s nothing at all.  Noth. ing.

Various of his victims attempt to reason with him, some quite legitimately, and the most generous option he’s able to offer them is to determine their own fate based on the flip of a coin.  And it’s not because he enjoys tormenting them, as offering someone that option would surely do.  He hasn’t chosen the coin flip based on its arbitrary, and thus even more terrifying, nature.  It’s just because, well, that’s kind of all he could come up with.  He said he’d kill them, and he can’t just not do it — why would he?  And so the only option he can give them is fate.  Which, even at a rate of 50/50, isn’t much of a comfort when you’re sitting across from a dude with a tank of compressed air and a disarmingly stoic expression.

I gots chills.

The other night, I asked my husband if he’d finished watching the movie yet so I could send it back to Netflix, and we got to talking about it.  When I said I’d really liked it, he grimaced and muttered, “What the hell’s the point of a movie like that?”  What’s the point of a movie, in other words, in which nothing goes right for anybody?  It’s a question I’d already been asking myself after seeing that Other Movie over the weekend, and while I can answer it for that one (much as I resist the answer — more on that in the next review), I’m not sure I’ve come up with anything much for this one. 

In some ways, it almost seems like it’s a movie about the futility of human emotions when put up against someone or something or some entity that has no real sense of justice.  Maybe it’s a commentary on the gradual loss of social morals — we’ve stopped saying “Sir” and “Ma’am,” according to Sheriff Bell, and so maybe this is where we should expect to find ourselves.  Except, at the same time, it seemed to be about people who made choices based on what seemed to them to be a total lack of choice.  And how can we be held responsible for choosing the only option we were aware we had in a given situation?

Ultimately, however, while I can’t tell you WHY, I can tell you this movie really impressed me.  It’s beautifully, expertly made and the acting — whew.  Honestly, there’s just no one better than Tommy Lee Jones when it comes to playing a world-weary cop — I love that man.  And Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem are also extremely effective in their parts.  Actually, until I saw him in Planet Terror a year or so ago (where he also plays a mustachiod tough guy, hence my desire to see him change things up with a rom-com next), I hadn’t really seen Josh Brolin since Goonies, I don’t think.  The man’s totally blowing my mind.  Make him stop.

In any case, I definitely suspect this one will make it on my list of Top Ten Movies Seen in 2008, and I’m also planning on picking up the novel as soon as possible to see whether I enjoy it any more or less than the movie.   Incidentally, if you rent this on DVD, don’t miss the “making of” special feature, in which Tommy Lee Jones attempts to classify No Country for Old Men as a “comedy.”  Snort.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre:  Drama
Cast:  Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant

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11 Responses to “MOVIE: No Country for Old Men (2007)”

  1. Alisa Says:

    I saw this movie and I really liked it. I felt bad for the old guy at the gas station and though out the movie my husband and I were trying to figure out what the hell the weapon was that he was using. We finally did at the Highway Cop Scene. However we both didn’t like the ending. We both thought it was just unfair. But since when is life ever fair?? 🙂

  2. megwood Says:

    Damn, that was fast commenting, Alisa! 🙂

  3. Alisa Says:

    LOL, I thought this posting had been up for a while. 🙂

  4. megwood Says:

    It had — if you consider “a while” to be 7 minutes!

    Hawesome. I feel so READ!

  5. Liz Says:

    I saw “No Country” a couple of weeks ago – one of my first Netflix rentals – and was also impressed. I sort of made my husband watch it with me, and we argued about what was going on, and how that Chigurh guy was killing people. I understood the air part, but not the metal rod part – vary disturbing. And the scene about tossing the coin! I don’t think there was any dialogue specifically about what the coin toss was FOR, but it was so clear to us! That poor convenience store guy was so terrified, and he didn’t even know why!

    I was more conscious of the actors and the acting than the philosophy of the movie. I couldn’t believe Woody Harrelson was in it, and I had never heard anything about him. I thought he was brilliant – why had I not heard anything? And I hadn’t known about Josh Brolin either; he did a good job. Javier Bardem was indeed amazing, but why was he billed as “supporting actor” and Tommy Lee Jones as “lead actor?” It really seemed the other way round to me; it was Bardem’s movie, and, although Jones was very good, I thought his character was more like a Greek chorus, commenting on what was going on from a distance.

    The parallel created between Brolin’s and Bardem’s characters was amazing – especially the scene that each of them had, involving buying someone else’s clothes! And the scene between Brolin’s wife and the killer! I thought it was a really well done movie, and the violence served to reinforce the characterizations. Not exactly a “fun” movie, but a good one.

  6. Lorraine Says:

    Josh Brolin impressed me and Tommy Lee Jones is always good but I really disliked this movie. For me it was all chasing, shooting and bleeding. I was ff-ing so much that I just gave up and shut off the movie.

  7. megwood Says:

    Lorraine, I think that’s how my husband kind of felt about it too.

    Liz, my guess is that the reason Bardem was the “supporting actor” and TLJ the “lead actor” had more to do with notability in the U.S. more than the actual size of their roles. Bardem is still relatively unknown to American audiences. It may also have something to do with the original source material — I’ve heard that in the book, the Sheriff is actually the primary character and that there’s quite a bit of stuff in there about his experiences in WWII, as compared, I would assume, to Moss’s experiences in Vietnam. Looking forward to reading the book — has anybody else read it?

  8. Trip Says:

    That haircut…all the denim and the polyester…it’s as if the head of the studio summoned his top writers, and dropped the July 1980 Sears catalog onto the table, telling them to make it hard, and make it angry.

    This movie also should have won the Oscar for Best Use of Compressed Air in a Motion Picture. Holy crap, even *I* felt that lock punch me in the chest…

    The Coen brothers nailed the feel of Cormac McCarthy’s books perfectly here. I can’t think of any other author/director pairing coming as close to perfect harmony as this, except for maybe Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick for The Shining…only this movie is way better.

    Loved the meta themes – Javier Bardem as the angel of death, chasing down the seemingly puny mortal, who still has some tricks yet to delay the inevitable…the sheriff who observes, sad and bewildered – Tommy Lee Jones’s last scene was pure McCarthy. He tells a great story, and he’s real visual, but he’s dark, dark, dark.

    He really needs a hug.

  9. megwood Says:

    What’s funny about the 80’s stuff, though, is that I didn’t even realize it WAS the 80’s until Moss was asked if he was a Vietnam vet and answered yes. I didn’t actually find their clothes or hair that shockingly out-of-date (it was no “Prom Night,” in other words!). Bardem’s hair was ridiculous, but it didn’t scream 1980’s to me, and neither did anybody else’s, really. Then again, I live in the Pacific Northwest where “dressing up” means putting on the jeans that DON’T have the holes in the knees. So, what the hell do I know from fashion?

    Glad to hear the movie captured the book — that bodes well for my enjoyment of the novel. I haven’t read much McCarthy — just “The Road” (which I loved except I kept waiting for zombies to show up) and “All the Pretty Horses,” which I don’t remember much about, which probably means it didn’t impress me that much. Part of the reason I haven’t read more is that critics are always comparing him to Faulkner, who is my favorite author, and, in my experience, most people who compare other writers to Faulkner don’t know Faulkner from nuthin’.

    But after seeing this film, I’m definitely interested in reading the novel, and in formulating my OWN opinion about McCarthy as a Faulkner-esque writer. Trip, sounds like you’re a big McCarthy fan — any others you recommend in addition to this one? If I read and love this one, what should I read next, in other words?

  10. Trip Says:

    If you’ve already read “The Road” and liked it, and you like “No Country”, then definitely give “Blood Meridian” a shot. It’s McCarthy at his most raw and nihilistic. The story is a true Western and winds through the Southwest and northern Mexico like a bloody 1850’s Route 66.

    Plus, it has “The Judge”.

    I found that with that book, I had to go a lot slower to really digest McCarthy’s prose….again, there’s no punctuation, it’s very stream-of-consciousness, and it’s true to how people talked and behaved. You definitely get a sense of where the power of “The Road” comes from.

  11. Jenny Says:

    Wow, excellent comparison to Halloween! It seems so obvious now.

    I loved this movie, but I don’t feel the need to ever see it again. I really appreciated how well-made it was, and how good everything about it was (except I was not a fan of Kelly MacDonald as the wife; I thought her fake accent was AWFUL), but it’s so grim, it’s nothing I’d ever be like, “Hey, you know what I’m in the mood for? No Country for Old Men!”

    Anyone reading this, forgive my run-on sentences and bizarre grammar. I’m an editor in real life, but don’t care about such things when I’m posting on the Internets late at night.

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