(No longer in theaters)
Action/Adventure, Drama, Suspense/Thriller
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Scott Rudin
Nov 16, 2007
The best movie opening this week is Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men, a faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s downbeat thriller, which I wrote about at length before its New York Film Festival opening. You can find that piece here (along with my blog, the Projectionist), but here’s the gist: It’s a near masterpiece.
The film opens with lonely Texas vistas of desert and mountains, and plaintive narration by Tommy Lee Jones as an aging sheriff who stares with incomprehension at the horrors the young’uns inflict upon one another in these godless times. The horrors to come are certainly formidable. No Country for Old Men centers on a likable trailer-park loser (Josh Brolin) who stumbles onto a scene of slaughter in the desert (Mexican drug smugglers shot to pieces along with their dogs), discovers a suitcase filled with millions of dollars, and decides—as dumb guys often do in this sort of movie—to make off with it. It isn’t long before he’s tracked by Mexican assassins and, more chillingly, a psychopathic Terminator (Javier Bardem) who reflexively murders thugs and bystanders alike with the kind of air gun used to blast the brains out of cows.
No Country for Old Men is dominated by Bardem and his Prince Valiant haircut, basso-Lurch voice, and dark, freaky stare in the extended foreplay before his killings. No one, not even Jones’s sheriff, has comparable weight, and so, in the end, cruelty, chaos, and resignation swamp everything—including the Coens’ evident delight in their crackerjack thriller set pieces and soulfully weird actors. That’s not the kind of delight you discern in McCarthy, whatever you think of him, and the film’s climactic whimper might bring you up short. I think it’s a cosmic bummer, but we can argue about that after you see the movie.