‘This country’s hard on people’ muses Tommy Lee Jones in 2007’s critically acclaimed… especially when said people are hunted by a ruthless hired killer. Although it’s a term too readily bandied about, No Country For Old Men really does benefit from some knockout casting and its superb directorial leadership in the guise of the quirky Coen brothers. From the mind of bleak-loving Cormac McCarthy (see also The Road), No Country For Old Men is an intriguing look into life and our connection to it. With some heavyweight Oscar wins to its name, No Country For Old Men is an impressively dark cinematic offering.
Opening with little fanfare, the film begins with some sweeping landscapes narrated by a conversational southern drawl. We’re soon confronted with a devastating scene of death and a drug ‘deal gone wrong’ – made all the worse by the dogs that litter the space. Soon we find ourselves alongside Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss who finds himself caught up in the murderous proceedings as he tries to secure the drug money he steals from the scene. The orange hue that fills the film adds to the slow burning plot whilst the captive bolt pistol Bardem wields adds a creepy tension to the movie.
One of No Country For Old Men’s star attractions is, undoubtedly, Javier Bardem’s as the mysterious Anton Chigurh. First encountering him as he kills the policeman who stands in between him and freedom, we watch as he unflinchingly goes about his business as unnerved hitman. Perhaps one of the more sinister moments of the film comes from his confrontation with the petrol station clerk as he toys with fate with his life-determining coin. Tommy Lee Jones, like everything he’s in, shines here, too. Having to contend with his dim-witted lieutenant, his character jars with the recent technological explosion in cinema. Set in the 1970’s, watching as Jones trots onto one crime scene on a horse adds almost a surreal tone to the proceedings; how are they meant to tackle Bardem’s seemingly unstoppable Chigurh?
Aside from that awful haircut (we dare someone to defend it) Chigurh harbours a murderous appetite hereto unrivalled by any other film. Packing a great voice to boot there’s a scary precision to everything Bardem does. His unsettling medical knowledge mixed with his unervingly perfect weapon add to his enigma. Unphased by injury and insult, Bardem’s character is timeless.
In its focus on the slow-burning four-way chase (Chigurh wants his client’s money, Brolin’s Moss wants to escape with the cash, Jones’s Bell wants to find the murderer whilst the brilliant Woody Harrelson Carson Wells wants to stop the evil chigurh) the film explores the burden of money and it’s testament to Chigurh’s ruthless bloodlust that the chase continues even when the money’s gone.
The film broods with an ominously tense tone and makes great use of camera techniques – the binocular scene being a great example. No Country For Old Men has an almost timeless quality whilst its scripting is impressive – the quick fire conversation between Brolin and Harrelson being great testament to this as well as their acting talent. Although much of the focus is given to the devastation left in Chigurh’s wake the whole story is a vehicle for Tommy Lee Jones’s isolation which is only amplified in his discovery that retirement is boring. Much like Bell’s stories, the film has a dream-like unreal quality to it… and then he woke up.
Best performance: Javier Bardem.