Put yourself in Southern Texas, in the shoes of an average Joe retired welder who stumbles across millions of dollars in a bag after a drug exchange goes wrong. Sounds like a pretty good place to be, right? Well, now take off those shoes and slip in a crazed psychopathic killer with an uncanny tracking ability. Still desirable? What if I told you the killer wasn’t a man but some sort of strange, symbolic, mystic entity? At a certain point in time, one has to take into consideration just how much a bag of money is worth.
Because it’s always a major shock when the Coen brothers make a serious movie, and perhaps because it was a relatively slow year for blockbuster films, No Country For Old Men collected four sparkling Oscars and was widely heralded as the best film of the year. Conflict is what makes a film enjoyable, for the most part, and viewers get their fair share of it in this somewhat thoughtful thriller.
The story is Cormac McCarthy’s, so you know immediately that it’s going to be good. Not exactly upbeat and uplifting, but certainly original and groundbreaking. I haven’t found anything by McCarthy I didn’t like, from The Sunset Limited to The Road, so you were always going to see this film included somewhere in my column. The Road just might be on the near horizon, as well (spoiler alert).
Viewers are taken into the home of Llewelyn Moss and his wife, who both provide very strong, believable and consistent performances. But the true breadwinner performance comes from the versatile (but very distinctive) Javier Bardem. His character, Anton Chigurh, carries a sort of chilling detachedness that not only has the viewers, but also the characters in the film thrown off, as if they’d never seen anything like him before. Chigurh doesn’t follow a predictable pattern of behavior that the typical self-interested human could understand, so it leaves you guessing as to exactly what he’s going to do next and exactly what his greater motives are. As Marshall Carson Wells put it midway through the movie: “You could almost say he has principles.”
One of the things that detracts from the quality of this film is the inclusion of some actors who are good friends of the Coen brothers that simply are much more suited for comedic films and roles. Maybe it’s just me, but I had a great deal of difficulty taking a conversation between Woody Harrelson and Stephen Root seriously.
Tommy Lee Jones plays his usual, tired role as a chasing cop, always a step behind the action. It would be a bit of a frustrating cast, if not for his character’s unique philosophy in the role. Jones seems tired and somewhat scatterbrained during his scenes, but his lethargy has a purpose; he feels overmatched against the powerful forces at work in the line of murder’s he is following.
The reason I include this film in the socially relevant marathon, is because rarely do you see a production with nuanced messages find such popularity in a modern viewing audience. The absence of a real built up climax, converging with a pressing message of inevitable death and aging might not be the most upbeat approach, but it somehow found the heart of viewers who these days seem to prefer regurgitated comic book films and Will Ferrell comedies. Not to say that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s a lot to ask to separate an audience from their beloved “good guy- bad guy approach.”