Movie Review: <i>No Country for Old Men</i>

We love us some Coen Brothers, but after their last three movies—"Intolerable
Cruelty, "The Ladykillers" and "The Man Who Wasn't There,"—even we were starting
to wonder when the idiosyncratic directors would return to form. Brutal,
truthful and unrelenting for its full running time, "No Country for Old
Men,"
is that return to form, in a big way.

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy book and beautifully shot in a barren West Texas
country, the movie is a bleak, poetic meditation on American-brand violence—the
kind this country was founded on and that still thrives. The story, set in 1980,
centers around Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a regular Joe Bob Vietnam
vet who, while hunting, stumbles across the macabre aftermath of a drug deal
gone bad and takes a big case of cash from the grip of a dead man. That never
being a good idea in movies, it sets off an apocalyptic chain of events: As
Llewelyn runs from Mexican dope dealers, he is also being hunted down by a
psychotic killer with a twisted moral code (a superb, chilling Javier
Bardem
as Anton Chigurh, the most memorable villain in years) and an aging
lawman who can't understand, let alone stop, any of the violence (Tommy
Lee
Jones playing world-weary Tommy Lee Jones to the hilt).

In the hands of the Coen brothers (and cinematographer Roger Deakins), West
Texas is a beautiful, unforgiving frontier wasteland by turns blisteringly hot,
cold, stormy, windy: an unpredictable, modern-day chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out
Wild West where violence and death are casual and inevitable. Though the movie,
which is set in 1980, is splattered with the Coens' trademark dark humor and
sharp dialogue, some of its most memorable scenes are wordless: the ominous shot
of an injured black dog limping away in an endless valley; a telephone ringing
in the distance as Anton silently stalks Llewellyn in a hotel and the
surprisingly resourceful Llewellyn stalks him right back; an injured Anton
painstakingly, expertly cutting his pants off, removing a bullet from his leg,
cleaning and dressing the wound, and shooting himself up with a prescription
painkiller. The latter scene is, to me, an extremely telling one: Where else but
Vietnam would someone learn to do that?

Both Anton and the Llewellyn seem casualties of that particularly wasteful
and psychologically damaging war, which has become so ingrained in the American
psyche. Add to that the movie's other elements—the casual use of racist slurs by
some characters, the obvious porousness of the U.S.-Mexico border, Llewellyn's
resilience and can-do attitude—and you have a cinematic mirror to the American
condition, and an instant classic.

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