No Country For Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007)

27Mar10

His name is Anton Chigurh, and he’s one of the most cold-blooded evil mass-murderers you will ever see on the silver screen. We first see him strangle a sheriff to death with his hands in cuffs, cutting his own wrists until they bleed in the process. Then he executes an innocent driver with some kind of oxygen cylinder contraption, just so he can steal his car. He goes on to fill up with gasoline, and the owner pisses him off by making mindless chitchat. He makes the man call a coin toss to decide whether or not he can live. The scene is the desolate, eerily quiet wastelands of southern Texas, and there’s not a cop in sight.

Actually, there is a Sheriff of sorts onto the Chigurh case, played by the ageing Tommy Lee Jones. He can’t quite believe the evil he hears about and sees in the world nowadays, but he nevertheless goes about his job sincerely. The case he’s ‘investigating’ is further complicated by a drug-deal gone wrong on the outskirts of his town. There are a number of dead dogs, bloodied bodies and abandoned vehicles, including one with the stash of narcotics. The money’s missing, however, because a retired hunter in the area unfortunately stumbled across it, and ran. I did indeed just say that he was unfortunate to find the cash, for it sets him on a path consisting of Chigurh chasing him, and it ultimately leads to his death. By this point the action has shifted a few hundred miles down the road, and even drifted across the Mexican border, but the Sheriff is still working on the earlier details back in his hometown. The world, quite simply, moves too quick for him. He arrives far too late to save Llewelyn Moss.

The Coen brothers also made Fargo, and that was a film about cold-blooded crime which tried to be, and succeeded hugely in being, funny. But No Country For Old Men is something different. It is visual perfection and absolute dedication to flawless storytelling. Every scene is so well built, acted, and delivered that one often feels the urge to press pause and just admire the artwork, or even rewind and feel the intensity of some scenes over again. Even in the middle of Chigurh’s Sheriff strangling, the Coen brothers are carving out their masterpiece. The floor is orderly scuffed up by the victim’s boots.

Shoes return later in the film. Chigurh has an obsession with clean feet. He can get bullet-wounded in the leg and apply his own stitches and anesthetic in a motel room bathtub, but he can’t hack blood on his feet. Such intricacies are one of many ways No Country manages to subtly imply so much about what happens offscreen, without the need to show it at all.

The ending arrives, and it wraps everything up phenomenally. Llewelyn is dead, Chigurh is a wanted man. Only the Sheriff is left to ponder his choice of retirement, and, it turns out, dream about being older than his father, and his father riding ahead into the distance and setting up camp in preparation for him. The image vanishes; the screen goes black. We’ve calmly been shown absolute evil, and its encounters with more ordinary men. All of them rest now, and so do we, after witnessing some of the most composed filmmaking the world will ever see.

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