- Rated R
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All photos © Miramax Films
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s been a long time since the Coen brothers delivered a film worthy of any critical recognition. The last one that comes to mind is the musical comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” but for fans of the Coen’s trademark blood-and-money crime dramas, it goes as far back as 1996, when “Fargo” gained both critical and commercial success on its way to receiving seven Oscar nominations. Since then, the brotherly duo has been stuck in a bit of a creative rut, but with the release of their latest film, “No Country for Old Men,” it seems like their streak of bad luck has finally ended. Using Cormac McCarthy’s bestselling novel as a template, the Coen brothers have not only produced one of the best films of their careers, but they've also delivered a clear frontrunner for this year’s Best Picture race.
The film stars Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, a blue collar Texan who stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong in the middle of the desert. When he discovers a satchel filled with $2 million amongst all the dead bodies, Llewelyn decides to keep it for himself and treat his trailer-park wife (Kelly Macdonald) to a better life. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that a psychotic assassin named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is hot on his trail, killing those in his way with the combination of cattle gun and a shotgun equipped with a spray can-sized silencer. Only those he deems lucky enough are given the chance at redemption, but crossing paths with Chigurh usually means one thing: death. Meanwhile, sheriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is thrust into the middle of the dispute when he tries to end the feud once and for all.
Despite the obvious comparisons to other classic film heavies, Bardem’s Chigurh is unlike any onscreen villain you’ve ever seen. Walking around town with a Davy Jones haircut and dragging a CO2 canister by his side, you’d be remiss not to at least chuckle at the sight of him. That is, until you got a little closer. Bardem’s award-worthy performance is positively teeming with rabid insanity, from the opening shot of Chigurh as he strangles a deputy with handcuffs, to his final appearance in the closing minutes. His demeanor is only made that much more intimidating by a deep, demonic voice that sounds like Satan himself, and his eyes receive a terrifying jolt of passion during spells of violence. Brolin’s Llewelyn may joke about Chigurh being “the ultimate badass,” but that assessment isn’t far off.
Of course, Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones are equally as effective in their respective roles, and though they won’t be remembered quite like Bardem come awards time, they certainly deserve the recognition. Woody Harrelson’s cameo appearance as a hired gun sent to curb Chigurh’s killing streak is also worthy of mention, but it comes off feeling like unnecessary baggage to a story better left focused on its three main characters. Although the film’s ending does have a few shortcomings that keep it from attaining perfection, the 100 minutes that precede it are so good it’s easy to forgive. The movie is violent, but never overdone and totally necessary, while the brothers’ dark sense of humor flows throughout. The eerie absence of a score also ratchets up the tension, and though many likely won’t realize it’s even missing, it serves the film’s Hitchcockian moments incredibly well.
McCarthy’s novel is tailor-made for the Coens' cinematic sensibilities, a winding tale that spins a heavy web of morality for its characters to maneuver. And though the similarities to the the brothers' earlier films are pretty obvious (it could just as easily be described as “‘Fargo’ in the desert"), “No Country for Old Men” transcends these comparisons to become something much more. This isn’t just another notch on the Coen brothers’ amazing career of exquisitely crafted crime dramas. It’s an instant American classic, and the first truly must-see awards contender of the year.
Collector's Edition Blu-Ray Review:
It was only a matter of time before Miramax revisited their 2008 Best Picture winner, and though it still isn’t as good as it could be, the new collector’s edition is a major improvement over the initial DVD release. Featuring all of the original extras (“The Making of No Country for Old Men,” “Working with the Coens” and “Diary of a Sheriff”), the two-disc Blu-ray also includes star Josh Brolin’s unauthorized behind-the-scenes documentary and hours of interview material from the film’s press tour. The interviews themselves get a bit taxing after a while, but if we’re never going to see an audio commentary by the Coens or any of the actors, this will have to do.