Thursday, July 23, 2009


“O’ Brother, Where Art Thou” co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen have created another classic melodrama with their modern-day western, road trip crime thriller “No Country for Old Men” (**** out of ****) about an inexorable killer and his quest to recover millions in illicit drug money. This art-house saga is a simple but powerful tale that involves four primary characters and a host of supporting characters. The action takes place in 1980. Indeed, if you use the zoom function on either your DVD or Blu-Ray player, you can spot the date on the phone bill. Moreover, if you look closely, you will see that the phone bill is $12.18. Ostensibly, the narrator, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, spends most of his time dwelling on the psychology of the characters as well as the changing times. “No Country for Old Men” isn’t your ordinary shoot’em up with cut and dried heroes and villains. The Coens have adapted the Cormac McCarthy novel and retained its pervasive sense of irony. Indeed, the moral universe of “No Country” is skewered because the villain survives, the protagonist dies, and the sheriff is so scared that he quits his job. Hired killer Anton Chigurh embodies the essence of pure evil. Despite the fact that he is a flesh & blood character, Chigurh could send shivers up the Terminator’s spine because he never gives up. Although the Coens may not realize it, Chigurh resembles another inexorable killer, the Lee Van Cleef gunman named ‘Angel Eyes’ in director Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Like ‘Angel Eyes,’ Chigurh always finishes the job no matter what the consequences.

The action opens with a sheriff’s deputy arresting Chigurh (Javier Bardem of “Collateral”) and taking him in hand cuffs back to the jail. The unsuspecting deputy leaves the cuffed Chigurh sitting in a chair behind him while he phones the sheriff and discusses the unusual weapon that Chigurh uses to kill people. At the end of the conversation with the sheriff, the deputy promises his boss that “he has everything under control.” Meanwhile, behind him, Chigurh has slipped his cuffed wrists up under his thighs so that he can hold his hands in front of himself. Immediately, he attacks the deputy and they leave boot heel scuff marks galore on the floor while they struggle. Chigurh kills the deputy, confiscates a police cruiser, takes his peculiar weapon that consists of a slim canister, a hose, and a firing mechanism and pulls over a motorist, kills him with this odd weapon and steals his car. Later, at a Texaco gas station, Chigurh takes umbrage when the attendant asks him about the weather. This is quite a chilling scene as Chigurh stares at the attendant with his opaque eyes and forces him to play a game that involves flipping a coin. The attendant–like many characters–isn’t the brightest bulb in the factory and he can never get Chigurh to spell out the stakes riding on the coin flip.

The ostensible protagonist, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin of “American Gangster”), is hunting deer antelope in the desert and wounds one. Setting out to track down the wounded animal, Llewelyn comes across a scene straight out of Hell, a circle of trucks in the middle of nowhere and a number of bullet-riddled bodies strewn about them with a dead dog. Earlier, Moss saw a wounded pit bull limping away the high weeds. He finds one Mexican still alive but bleeding to death. Eventually, Moss figures out that one Mexican got away and he follows him to a ridge clad with two trees and finds the man dead with a satchel and a shiny automatic pistol. The satchel contains $2-million dollars in cash. When Moss returns home to his trailer, his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald of “Trainspotting”) is watching television. She inquires about the pistol but Moss brushes off all questions and threatens to take her to bed and have sex with her. She snorts derisively and quips, “That’ll be the day.” Later that night, Moss decides to return to the scene of the shooting because his conscience has gotten to him about the sole survivor that he found. Earlier, the dying Mexican had pleaded for a drink of water and Llewelyn brings a jug of cold water. No sooner has he set foot on the scene that some other Mexicans wheel up in a truck, slash his tires, pursue him and take shots at him. Moss dives into a river and the Mexicans dispatch a tenacious pit bull dog that leaps into the river and swims after him. Moss barely gets out of the river and clears his pistol before the dog lunges at him and he guns it down. You don’t often see dogs die in modern-day movies. By this time, Chigurh is on Moss’ trail and he rides out to his trailer park. He uses his cattle gun to blow the door lock off. In fact, this is Chigurh’s favorite method of entering a building; he blows the lock off the front door. However, Moss and his wife have already vacated the premises before Chigurh arrives. Chigurh searches the trailer and finds a telephone bill that contains all the phone numbers and he starts calling the numbers. Such is the weird attention to minute detail that the Coens show us the amount of the bill: $17.16.

Chigurh arrives on the scene with two other men later on, studies the site, shoots them and sets out to find the stolen money. “No Country” depicts his pursuit of Moss. These two guys are pretty obstinate characters. Neither one of them gives up, but Moss has no idea about the lengths to which Chigurh is committed to go. Moss sends Carla Jean off to Odessa, Texas, to be with her mother while he heads off in a different direction. Carla Jean has to quit her job at Walmart before she leaves to join her cancer-stricken mother. At the same time, Sheriff Ed Tom and his deputy investigate the killings and Ed Tom is clearly shaken by what he sees of this killer. In a border town, Moss and Chigurh shoot it out in the street after Chigurh storms the hotel where Moss had holed up and kills the night clerk. He wounds Moss, but Moss wounds him, too. Chigurh stages a car fire in front of a pharmacy to get the medical supplies to tend to his wounds, while Moss walks across the border at night and winds up in a Mexican hospital where he recuperates. Eventually, he makes it back across the border, but Chigurh catches up with him and kills him. Surprisingly, in a random act of violence, Chigurh’s car is struck by another car but he survives the accident. Two kids on bikes roll up and Chigurh buys a shirt from one of them to tie up his dislocated arm and then he vanishes as if he were never there. The film concludes with Tom Ed talking about a dream that he had about his father.

“No Country for Old Men” is a chilling tale of crime in the southwest about a killer who will stop at nothing to complete his mission. Nevertheless, this isn’t a run-of-the-mill action shoot’em up clever dialogue and cool characters. These are flesh and blood people who can and do receive wounds and have to take down time to recover. The scene where Chigurh obtains the medical supplies and then nurses himself in a motel room, swabbing his wounds, plucking out the buckshot pellets and injecting himself with shots is rather gruesome but reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone dressing his wounds in the original Rambo movie "First Blood." Nothing goes as it should in a regular crime melodrama. Good loses in the long run and evil wins out in the end. This movie justifiably received four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Bardem netted the Best Supporting Oscar for his killer.

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