Over the years I’ve learned that safety is relative, unfortunately through no experience of my own. Instead I’ve watched some of my closest friends deal with some of the worst incidents that many times occurred in broad day light. Anywhere, any place, any time, anything can happen, and it feels like while this is happening, God or whatever being you believe in, the one being that can perhaps keeps you safe, is always a step behind. But those things that happen, those horrible things, don’t they feel like they’re getting worse. That the evil in the world is becoming braver and using more extreme methods to produce the carnage they want to produce? Where does that leave the people who came from a simpler time?
That is the basic, blanketing idea behind the title of No Country for Old Men, but as far as ideas in the movie goes, you’ll find yourself chasing each line, looking desperately for meaning in every word uttered and image seen. That’s how well crafted the Coen Brother’s newest crime film outing is. Like Fargo they take advantage of there setting, this time Texas, and create a mood with their characters unparralelled by other filmmakers. They’re fluency in film language has been perfected to the point over the years that even in shots that other directors would find a waste of effort, there’s a stark realism, sometimes those things are so realistic they come off as surrealistic. In every shot a story is being told, or an emotion is being conveyed, or an idea is being sought after.
The story is a MacGuffin to explore these ideas. Josh Brolin as Llewlyn Moss comes across a drug deal gone badly in a waste land of a location. He takes the money without realizing the consequences that will soon be following him. That consequence is Anton Chigurh, a killer and hunter, that one of the Mexican drug dealers calls Lobos, which Brolin naively responds to, “There ain’t no devil.” Boy, how more wrong could anyone be. Brolin’s character smartly conveys the naivety of the modern world, a world that believes if the payoff is good enough, then the consequences can be easily ignored. Chigurh is a man not so easily ignored. Javier Bardem gives one of the fiercest performances I’ve seen in awhile, creating a character with the menace, intelligence and insanity that perhaps only Hannibal Lecter has shown in recent years. Like Lecter, we find ourselves feeling a certain kinship with Chigurh, maybe it’s because we feel he represents something more than just a silly old villain or maybe it’s because he’s just so scary, he’s cool.
Tommy Lee Jones plays the narrator of the film and the Sheriff trying to find the killer and save Brolin. He provides the moral quandary of the film. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s now the old man who feels perhaps that the world has passed him by. That this Chigurh represents a new era, one in which he has no control over, an era in which people do as they please without thought of consequence. The Coen’s have toyed with the idea of narrator before, in “The Man Who Wasn’t There” Billy Bob Thornton is pulled away from his thoughts, kills someone, then returns to the side of his bed where without missing a beat continues his thoughts. Here, Jones as narrator doesn’t have all the answers, his feeling about the world is called into question as he trails just behind the story, witnessing only the aftermath of the events that occur.
But with all these ideas in tow, and more, the Coen’s haven’t forgotten to tell and incredibly exciting story. Each cat and mouse chase scene is so quietly filmed that the intensity is drawn from the visuals and… the waiting. You wait, uncertain as to how each interaction will conclude. Sometimes the Coen’s make us wait with some of the greatest movie dialogue I’ve ever heard, other times they make us wait in silence as characters follow trails of blood, or move across open land, or slowly approach closed doors, not sure what’s on the other side.
In the end though all of the ideas presented in the film, and each character that represents those ideas are turned on their heads. Vanity it turns out is the connecting flaw of each of the characters, vanity. Remember this as you watch the film.
The only way to really deal with this film is to pull it apart, piece by piece and since this is a review, I will not give away too much more of the story in this write up only to say that’s it’s thus far my favorite film of the year, with Bardem giving one of my favorite performances, and will probably win many awards before the season is done. Rightfully so.