I have a feeling that Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country for Old Men” will be one of those movies that is endlessly argued. The debate will
rage over the film’s final 20 minutes. To say you have no idea where the film is going is an understatement.
Before we get there, however, “No Country for Old Men” is absolutely brilliant.
When hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across a heroin deal gone wrong near the Rio Grande, he walks away with $2 million
Unfortunately for him, he becomes the most hunted man in the southwest.
In pursuit is Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a cold-blooded psychopath who uses a captive bolt pistol to pop out door locks and worse.
You can use your imagination. Squeamish be warned, the film is appropriately violent.
Bardem’s performance is chillingly good and should easily net him a supporting actor nomination. This is one of the most memorable movie
villains in recent history. He is without any sense of morality or belief. As far as we can tell, he just loves to kill people.
Brolin is also very good as the everyman who falls into a plot far beyond his comprehension.
The Coen brothers direct the film with great creativity and use sound design to wonderful effect. Whether it’s the subtle wind of the silent
desert or the terrifying pop of the bolt pistol, this is one of the most effective examples of sound effects editing you’ll find, especially
because much of the film is without dialog or music.
Roger Deakins cinematography is also excellent. The desert photography is especially accomplished. The sense of grandeur and isolation
works in tandem with the sound to creative a uniquely eerie feel.
The Coens also keep the film moving at a brisk, but steady pace filled with some very fine suspense. Luckily, the film does have a sense of
humor to balance things out a bit.
And here we finally come to it. The film’s final 20 minutes. As much brilliant storytelling has gone on in the previous 100 or so minutes, I
can't help but be disappointed with the resolution of the story.
The tone takes an abrupt shift into straight melodrama with Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. The sheriff’s inclusion up to this point in
the story has been questionable at best, but the two lengthy monologues he delivers late in the game serve to kill off any remaining
tension or interest. The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.
I suspect that the Coens got a bit too creative for their own good here. The dialog in this final segment reeks of Oscar bait and feels too
unrelated to the lean narrative that came before it.
So is “No Country for Old Men” still worth seeing despite the ending? Or is the ending such a small percentage of the film that it doesn’t
matter? Or is the unsuspecting ending actually an innovative and realistic way to end a story?
I don’t think I can answer any one of those questions absolutely.
What I can say is that most of “No Country for Old Men” is superb filmmaking and I would certainly recommend it, even if it ends in a place
that left me scratching my head with disappointment.
* * * 1/2
(out of four)
Written and Directed by: Ethan and Joel Coen
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin,
Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt
Cinematography by: Roger Deakins
Music by: Carter Burwell
Released: November 9, 2007; 122 Minutes