In 1996 Ethan and Joel Coen reinvented film with their chilly masterpiece “Fargo.” The film went on to win an Oscar for screenwriting for both of them and brought them instant fame and recognition. Their newest tale, “No Country For Old Men” was one of the most anticipated films of the year for a few reasons. The brothers recently found themselves with a slew of disastrously bad movies (“The Ladykillers”, “Intolerable Cruelty”) and the critical community could not wait for a return to form. With this addition to their resume, the Coen Brothers have been reinstated as a powerful force in Hollywood and have a chance to take home the big prize at this year’s Academy Awards.
The film is a complex murder mystery thriller adapted brilliantly from Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed novel. Josh Brolin leads the cast as Llewellyn Moss, a man who finds himself in a very dangerous situation after finding a large sum of money in the desert. The “rightful” owners of the cash employ the services of Anton Chigurh (played by the magnificent Javier Bardem) who takes the job into his own hands to get the money. Along the way we meet the beleaguered albeit lazy Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and Moss’ horrified wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald).
The great thing about this movie is the fact that every piece of it is near perfection. From the incredible landscapes brought to us from the Coens’ favorite cinematographer Roger Deakins, to the multitude of unwaveringly spectacular performances, to the sharp script, to the hauntingly real fear brought to the audience from Bardem’s character, this movie has it all. One could say it’s too perfect, but anybody who sits through the whole movie can’t disregard how incredible the experience is.
It should be noted that Javier Bardem has given us one of the most intense and scary performances of all time. Every horror legend from Michael Myers to Freddy Krueger should take lessons from Anton Chigurh. This is a man who has no qualms about who or why he kills. At many points in the film it feels like he’s just fulfilling a thirst for blood, rather than killing for purpose. His character seems completely unreal, but Bardem’s ability to bring a slight humanity to him makes him feel very real and thus twice as scary.
The other three leads also turn in terrific performances. Josh Brolin finally shows a lot of movie star potential. Moss goes through many changes, and Brolin seems to just ease his way into the character’s mind. Tommy Lee Jones has most certainly gotten better with age. His character is the lone beacon of hope for any happiness in the movie, something that is set up at the very beginning with a terrific prologue narration. Finally, the gorgeous Kelly MacDonald does a wonderful job. She doesn’t have a lot of screen time but she is still quite memorable. She appears in one of the last scenes of the movie and, as she is being interrogated by Chigurh, her fright is very obvious but she still keeps her character strong.
The Coen Brothers have a knack for telling these slow burning tales that seem very well planned and always well cast. The use of relatively unknowns seems to always work for them, and that’s probably the key to their success. Some of their other films seemed to rely on the star power of the actors rather than real talent. It will be interesting to see what future projects these two have on their plates. With “Fargo”, they changed the way we watch movies. With “No Country For Old Men” they changed the way we see them. We’ll definitely be seeing these two at the Oscars this year, and hopefully they can deliver such narrative strong films like this in the future.