topfivefilms.com Tuesday 18th January 2022
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No Country for Old Men (15)
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen
Reviewed by: Dave Witt

It's been 23 years since Blood Simple, Joel and Ethan Coen's terrific debut tale of deceit, double-cross and unintended bloody consequence; in the intervening period, the prodigious pair have revisited similar themes in much of their work, most notably Miller's Crossing and Fargo. However, with No Country for Old Men, their rough and blood-spattered ode to avaricious inevitability, it feels as though the brothers have come full-circle.

"Hello? Room Service here. I have your thirty chilli dogs."
"Hello? Room Service here. I have your thirty chilli dogs."

There is a terrific sense of completeness and capability about the film, which is based on Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel; while remaining faithful to the source material (indeed, far more faithful than most book adaptations), the picture is unmistakably a 100% Coen masterpiece.

Set in West Texas in 1980, the story concerns three principal characters: Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin in a breakout role, following up his charming turn in American Gangster), a trailer park-dwelling ex-welder who while out hunting stumbles across the remains of a drug deal gone badly wrong and scarpers with the $2 million he finds; Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones, expertly playing more or less the same character he always does these days), the local sheriff, long on home-spun wisdom and short on enthusiasm, who sets out to try to catch up with the fugitive Moss; and Anton Chigurh (a bizarre and menacing Javier Bardem, sporting one of the least likely haircuts in modern cinema history), a looming, relentless psychopath hired to recover the money and take care of the loose ends – all of them.

It's a familiar device to accompany the familiar thematic elements for the Coens, but the result is a virtual master-class in film-making. The writing, pacing, editing and shot framing is note-perfect, from long, slow silences and awkward, portentous conversational pauses to frenetic midnight shoot-outs. Long-time Coen collaborator Roger Deakins' cinematography is remarkable, painting the sun-bleached Texan vistas with an expert eye, evoking his earlier superb work in Jarhead. The dialogue is first-rate Texan vernacular, mostly lifted verbatim from McCarthy's prose with the occasional tweak. The actors in the high-calibre and sprawling cast are all similarly tremendous – Trainspotting's Kelly Macdonald an impressive surprise among them as Moss' sweet and simple wife Carla Jean. It's Bardem, however, who runs the show as the chilling and murderous Chigurh; he also derives most of the film's dark humour from his remorseless killer, who borders on the existential in his disregard for the sanctity of human life.

Indeed, despite the seeming familiarity of the setting and storyline, the end product is anything but; the Coens take a hacksaw to the rules of conventional film-making and what follows is two hours where the viewer (assuming he hasn't read the book, of course) will have absolutely no idea of what will happen next. This may not be to everyone's tastes; events which might be considered crucial in other films take place off-camera, which is unexpected and unsettling – part of the Coens' plan, naturally. It's also a brutal and callous film, as unsentimental as the landscape itself and as cruel as nature. The film's conclusion may seem abrupt and unsatisfying, but it reinforces the film's message of fatal inevitability: some things, such as change for the worse, simply cannot be avoided, no matter how hard you try.

No Country for Old Men is the pinnacle of the Coen brothers' work so far, echoing much of their previous portfolio (such as the veneration of "normal folks", who go about their business without greed or malice) while restoring their deservedly stellar reputation after a couple of iffy recent efforts. It's no easy watch, but this tale of blood money, hotels and motels, gunshot wounds and sweaty desperation is compelling cinema at its finest.

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Length: 122 minutes
Certificate: 15
Official Site: http://www.nocountryforoldmen.com/
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0477348/
Release Date: 18th January 2008

Top Five Rating: 90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0%90.0% (90.0%)
User Rating: 97.1%97.1%97.1%97.1%97.1%97.1%97.1%97.1%97.1%97.1% (97.1%)

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