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Review

Reviewers praise Coen Brothers’ ‘No Country for Old Men’

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December 6, 2007

Sometimes I really hate being restricted to 500 words to review a movie. Case and point, “No Country for Old Men,” the latest project from filmmaking maestros Joel and Ethan Coen. Described in mere words, the story resembles the basis of every stupid action movie and their mothers. But seen up close and personal, “No Country for Old Men” possesses an almost primal cinematic darkness that’s near-genius in its simplicity.

Set in 1980s Texas, “No Country” centers around three principal figures. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a small-town nobody who stumbles upon a drug deal gone horribly wrong – as well as a satchel filled with millions in cash.

It’s not long after he absconds with the dough that Moss finds himself being hunted down by various unsavory types, including Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a mysterious killer whose weapon of choice is a pneumatic air cannon. As the body count begins to rise, also pulled into the fray is Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), an aging sheriff who’s not sure he can muster up the strength to take this daunting investigation head-on.

Despite the complex nature of the screenplay and the characters within it, “No Country for Old Men” has a very simple message at its core: Evil exists in the world, and it can’t necessarily be stopped whenever we want. Pessimistic? Perhaps, but it’s more so realistic, as the Coens present not a doom-and-gloom festival of unfiltered depression, but rather one of the most quietly intense chase films in many a year.

The idea behind “No Country for Old Men” is darkly compelling, but the film’s true power lies in the journey more than the destination. After positioning its three leads as symbols for something (Bell as pure good, Chigurh as pure evil and Moss as that gray area most of us inhabit), the Coens set the stage for a fascinating struggle amongst this trifecta.

The suspense here makes for some of the most compelling cinema of the year, the lack of a consistent musical score only enhancing the dread and thrills generated by such scenes as a nighttime game of cat-and-mouse between Moss and Chigurh.

Indeed, the Coens have added yet another dark, quirky little masterpiece to a résumé filled with similar titles, but just as vital a part of the picture’s success is its rock-solid cast. Brolin makes for a sympathetic lead as the in-way-over-his-head Moss, Jones heartbreakingly delivers a handful of the script’s memorable monologues, and for his downright scary turn as the frighteningly relaxed Chigurh, the Academy should just give Bardem the Oscar now.

For those expecting two hours of constant gun battles and dialogue that consists of screaming boneheaded catchphrases, “No Country for Old Men” isn’t for you. This is a very deliberately paced film that does have its share of flaws (specifically one character’s anticlimactic fate). But those willing to stop and examine it more closely are in for one of the year’s most enriching slices of cinematic goodness.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.