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Review

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

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December 6, 2007

The Coen Brothers learned at a young age the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Taking the words to heart, modern cinema’s dynamic duo have prided themselves on crafting taught suspenseful crime mysteries that are both engaging and metaphoric in nature. Continually setting the bar higher and higher, the Coen Brothers never have come closer to the cinematic peak of perfection than with “No Country for Old Men.”

Set in 1980 Texas, “No Country” doesn’t feel like a typical Coen flick; gone are the quirky characters that float between quasi-dark scenes of criminal intent. In its place, the audience is confronted by a cynical present-day western brooding in its own dark nature, happily blowing out every candle of hope it can find.

While hunting, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and a satchel of over $2 million hard cash. After stealing the cash, Moss executes his fatal flaw: he returns to the scene of the crime mere hours later.

Spotted by Mexicans who stood to profit from the busted deal, Moss is thrust into a cat-and-mouse game he barely understands. Sent out after him is twisted and insane hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Caught in the crossfire is nearly retired Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones).

Brolin excels under the careful tutelage of the Coen Brothers. He brings an air of calm to his otherwise frenzied flee, always maintaining poise as he scrambles to survive, constantly one step behind.

The real star here, however, is Bardem. His cold calculating “ultimate bad-ass” motif is perhaps one of the scariest men seen on film since Hannibal Lecter. It is rare to see anybody survive after sharing the screen with this sadistic psychopath who enjoys flipping a coin to decide who lives and dies. Bardem manages to pull in and harness an elusive power only a few have ever tamed, speaking more with his eyes and expressions than he ever does with his mouth.

A quick X-ray of “No Country” would reveal a harsh truth: the film is a simple chase sequence with some brutality thrown in. But if one has the patience to look deeper, they would find a complex, almost subconscious soul engrained in the film’s essence. The message of the film is that hope is hidden within choice. Always questioning how and why we got here while reflecting on the desperate thought that humanity will never allow evil to die, the film offers a single ray of sunshine. We can always choose between right and wrong. “You don’t have to do this!”  A phrase often repeated in the film becomes its battle cry.

The majesty of this film is that all the players in it become symbols of these moralistic choices. Bardem’s hit man is pure evil incarnate while Jones’s wise and learned sheriff embodies absolute good. Brolin’s man-on-the-run emerges as a paradox of the two, slipping further and further into darkness as he desperately tries to do good.

The Coen Brothers have done something truly special. They have created a modern masterpiece in weaving together a story that has been done before but is itself completely original.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.