Wed, 10 Jun 2020
A genre-defying Western dark thriller whose antagonist has come straight out of the scariest horror movie. N2 film reviewer CAMERON BLACKSHAW revisits the Coen brothers’ 2007 Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, out soon on Netflix
No Country for Old Men (15)
Running time 2hr 2mins
NO Country for Old Men is one of those films that feels so unique that it can’t be contained within the boundaries of any one genre. A quick look at the plot makes it seem like a modern take on the classic Western. After Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a welder and Vietnam veteran, stumbles across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone awry in the dusty deserts of 1980s West Texas, he makes off with the $2m left at the scene, only to be pursued by the unstoppable evil of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a professional hitman on the trail of the cash.
However, the cat-and-mouse plot is nail-biting in its beautiful execution, and the tone is far more pessimistic and philosophical than the typical Western. It’s a dark thriller whose antagonist has come straight out of the scariest horror film. This sense of genre hybridity is a common staple of the Coen brothers’ work. Although their films rarely reach such dark depths, the writer-director family team created their greatest work with this Best Picture Oscar-winning masterpiece.
It is not a film for the faint of heart. The sense of tension is deftly created through the Coens’ direction, writing, and superbly rich camerawork by Roger Deakins. The otherworldly presence of Chigurh and the dark world in which the film takes place never feels too far from reality, which is extremely impressive. The Coens have a penchant for perfectly capturing the strange idiosyncrasies of everyday life and these idiosyncrasies are employed delightfully in No Country for Old Men. The Texas residents always on the fringe of the situation bring a sort of light-hearted cushion to the story.
The acting is phenomenal. Brolin is great in the central role of Moss. He’s stalwartly stubborn in the face of danger, managing to capture Moss’ warped sense of morality and relentless instinct for survival perfectly. Although often overlooked, Tommy Lee Jones as the film’s third protagonist Sheriff Ed Tom Bell puts in a subtly brilliant performance. His rambling stories and tired expressions reflect his inability to keep up with chaotic development of modern crime, one of the film’s key themes.
But it is in Javier Bardem’s powerhouse portrayal of Chigurh that this film really shines. The hitman is a singularly charismatic yet detestable villain along the lines of Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader, and is one of the greatest baddies in cinema’s history. Bardem deserved all the critical praise he received for the remorseless, compassionless and psychopathic character he inhabited so cleanly. That coin toss scene still makes my skin crawl.
No Country for Old Men is undoubtedly a modern classic. It’s a flawless thriller that impressively tackles big themes such as fate, conscience and circumstance, ideas the Coens have explored throughout their career. I can’t recommend it enough. It is certainly a layered film that demands multiple viewings, but it’ll still stun you the first time you see it.
No Country for Old Men is available on Amazon Prime Video and it is being added to Netflix in June.