Monday, November 12, 2007

Movie Review: No Country For Old Men

The plot of the latest Coen brothers film is almost as old as movies themselves: A down-on-his-luck nobody stumbles upon a huge quantity of cash, takes it against his better judgment, then spends most of the rest of the film running from the person whose money he took. This time around, it's 1980 in rural Texas, and Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet who, while hunting antelope, finds the remnants of a drug deal gone bad: half a dozen dead men, one hanging on for dear life, a bag stuffed with $2 million's worth of hundreds and an enormous quantity of heroin. Moss takes the money, but in the middle of night, he feels guilty about leaving the injured man, so he drives back to the scene. Oops. The bad guys spot him and chase after him, guns blazing, but Moss barely manages to escape on foot. (The sequence with him and the pit bull is one of my favorites of the year.) Moss knows his identity will be revealed via the truck he left at the scene, so he sends his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) to stay with her mom and takes off with the money. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a psychopath who's never without his cattle gun, shows up to find out who took the money so he can kill him and recover his cash. When Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) begins to figure out what's going on, he enters the fray to try to save Moss from his certain death. Like I said, this is a plot (here based on Cormac McCarthy's acclaimed novel) you have seen before. But what the Coens do with it is nothing short of brilliant. Where most filmmakers gradually build toward climaxes that are a movie's centerpieces, the Coens have, effectively, eliminated the climaxes. By not showing what would be the money shots in a typical film, they've made every second of what they do show that much more engaging. In lesser hands, this could have been a mess, but the Coens get everything right, and what's most impressive is that it looks effortless. While Fargo and The Big Lebowski remain my favorites of the brothers' movies, No Country For Old Men is still essential viewing.

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