Aug. 7, 2009
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin

What it's about. Set in 1980 Texas. Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) is a Redneck hunting deer when he comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. He finds several dead bodies and a briefcase full of money. He takes the money and runs, tracked across Texas by serial murderer Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who seeks to recover it. Llewelyn is sought by aging sheriff Tommy Lee Jones, who also tries to protect Llewelyn's attractive wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald). Woody Harrelson shows up as yet another hitman, after both Chigurh and the money.

How others will see it. No Country for Old Men achieved greater success at the Academy Awards than any other Coen brothers film, winning four major Oscars. Fargo had won "only" two. The film was also a commercial success. It is highly popular with the public, and currently ranks #109 on the Top 250.

The user ratings, however, indicate a noticeable age and gender gap. Older audiences are less approving, perhaps because of the violence, the death of three Mosses, the ineffectiveness of the sheriff, and the fact that the serial killer gets away with it. Also, the story is often confusing: why did Llewelyn return to the murder scene with a gallon of water? Did he really think the gunshot victim would still be alive or around, hours later, to tell him something useful? Women may in some cases consider the film unpleasant, or care less for it because their gender is barely represented. Female lead Kelly Macdonald has only a few scenes.

How I felt about it. It really shouldn't have been a shock that Llewelyn dies. He had used up all of his nine lives by then. It is a surprise that Chigurh is the clear winner: he kills much of the cast, and not only does he survive, but he avoids the law and gets the suitcase full of money.

For someone who has seen at least a thousand movies made during the Production Code era, it is always mildly annoying to see Crime Does Pay depicted onscreen. I understand that the filmmaker has more freedom, and that stories have more suspense, without a Production Code. It is also closer to reality: how many tyrants have committed mass murder, yet enjoyed to a ripe old age the power and wealth that ensued? Still, wouldn't it have been cool had Carla Jean whipped out a small handgun from her purse and shot Chigurh between the eyes?

It would have been out of character, however, and perhaps it is correct that Chigurh comes out on top. He has no remorse, no personal ties, and he is a professional. This distinguishes him from Llewelyn, an amateur at playing hitman and handicapped by his desire to protect his wife.

But there are a few curious things about this movie. Tommy Lee Jones is first-billed, but has a relatively small role. Three different groups of Mexican gangsters are important to the story, yet barely show up onscreen. How does Chigurh get the drop on Woody Harrelson? If a man is handcuffed behind his back, is it really possible for him to switch the cuffs to his front (try to do this yourself). Can a man outrun a jeep until he reaches the side of a cliff (in Texas??). Why didn't the Mexicans at the first motel think of checking the air vents for the suitcase? Texas in 1980 had a record hot summer, but this is unreferenced in the story.