No Country For Old Men (2007)

Viewed February 12th

In this Coen Brothers adaptation of a novel by Cormac McCarthy, a man steals money from a botched drug deal and finds himself on the run from a hired killer and the local sheriff. 

No Country for Old Men is bookended by two monologues, both delivered by an aging sheriff played by Tommy Lee Jones. In the first, Jones talks about how his father and other old-timers wouldn't know how to live in the present day, in which men seem to have sold their souls and are no better than animals. In the second monologue, told as the recounting of a dream to his wife, Jones describes a strange journey through the cold and the dark in which his father passed him by, but he knew that his father was going to light a fire in the cold and that he'd meet him again someday at this fire. But then, he says, he woke up, back to the reality of the Godless, soulless world of violence he actually does live in. To the viewer, this final line of the film--"And then I woke up"--feels uncannily like waking up from a dream, and it has that sting of coming back to the messiness and endless, difficult complexity of the real world. But, here, it's more, too. No Country for Old Men is old time religion dressed up as a expertly-crafted crime thriller. The audience is carried through the scenes as if things are going somewhere and the sheriff will track down the killer and that moment of closure will occur, but it doesn't, and it's clear that it never was. The film circles around a void. This world, the world we live in, in which secularism has replaced religion, the film shockingly says, is too chaotic and violent for anything so charming as a Hollywood ending. It's a dark film that pushes Fargo's "all that for a little bit of money" into more upsetting, devastating terrain. Besides the Coens' mastery of shaping scenes, creating tension, and directing the narrative that they want to tell, the thing that makes it work so well is Javier Bardem's performance as Chigurh, the killer. He represents so much and nothing at the same time, he is chaos embodied--it's one of the 21st centuries most staggering, artistic screen performances.