Release Date: May 19th, 2007 (Cannes)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant, Stephen Root, Garret Dillahunt
Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Miramax Films, Paramount Vantage, 122 Minutes
“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell
While the Coens have made some fantastic films over the last several decades, going back to 1984’s Blood Simple, this picture is in the upper echelon of their rich oeuvre. Yet, in a lot of ways, it calls back to Blood Simple in style and for blending together different genres in a unique way. It is also very similar to Fargo, as both films follow a small town cop dealing with a grisly crime from out-of-towners and it is accented by a lot of violence on screen.
Some have called No Country for Old Men a western, others have called it a film-noir. While it takes place in more modern times than the traditional settings of those genres, it does share elements of both. It is very much a neo-western and also a neo-noir in its narrative style. I think that is a big part of what makes this such an extraordinary picture though. It is a hybrid and reinvention of multiple styles but it all weaves together like a gritty, balls out tapestry of masculine intensity.
Other than being in the very capable hands of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the film boasts an incredible cast, mostly of badass men.
First, you have Josh Brolin and this is the role that really put him on the map and sort of resurrected his career, as he isn’t remembered for much before this other than in his teen years when he played Brand in 1985’s The Goonies. He was perfectly cast here, as a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes a case of money and finds himself in way over his head. Essentially, the hunter becomes the hunted.
Then you have Javier Bardem as the evil hitman Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s Chigurh has become one of the greatest villains in movie history, mainly because of how unusual he is as a person and in how he executes his targets. Chigurh is scary as hell, period. His method of killing is to use a bolt pistol on his targets. A bolt pistol is a tool that uses compressed air to send a bolt through the heads of cattle before their slaughter. In a sense, Chigurh is a remorseless, cold blooded killer and his choice of weapon goes to show that he sees human beings as nothing more than cattle that need to be put down if they find themselves in his path. Although, the fates of some characters are decided by Chigurh flipping a coin, similar to Two-Face from the Batman franchise.
The film also gives us Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Jones plays the sheriff that is trying to contain the violence that is running rampant in his county, Harrelson plays a bounty hunter and acquaintance/rival of Chigurh, while Corbin plays a sort of mentor to Jones’ sheriff character. With Jones, we see a sheriff that also finds himself in over his head and is admittedly “outmatched” by the evil in his world. Harrelson, while a bounty hunter, finds himself in the sights of another killer. Like Brolin, these other characters are also on the side of the coin that they aren’t familiar with.
No Country for Old Men is known for its level of violence. While there is a lot of it, I don’t think that it is as violent as the book. However, seeing it come alive on screen is effective. It isn’t done in a way that is gratuitous or to be celebrated or used as a cheap parlor trick to sell the movie, it is presented in a way that shows it in a negative light, something that the sane characters abhor. It exists as almost a commentary against itself but to also shed light on a very real level of violence that exists along the U.S.-Mexican border. While this takes place in 1980, not much has changed in that region.
Two things that really make the film as impactful as it is, on an emotional level, are the film’s score by Carter Burwell and the cinematography by the veteran Roger Deakins. For Deakins, this film was sandwiched between his work on In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are some strong visual similarities between the three films and they are three of the best looking motion pictures of 2007.
At this point, No Country for Old Men is considered to be a classic and for good reason. It won four Oscars, the most important being Best Picture. It also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It shared the most nominations with There Will Be Blood but it beat it out in awards won. As to which is better, that’s open for debate.