No Country for Old Men

No Country

Ethan and Joel Coen’s latest directorial production, No Country for Old Men, defies convention and easy categorization. That does not make it any less powerful or interesting.

It begins with an unusual quandry. A young hunter, Llewelyn Moss (played ably by Josh Brolin), is hunting for antelope. His initial shot does not kill his prey, but only clips the flank and the antelope limps off. As Moss is following the blood trail he finds another blood trail left by an injured dog. He follows the trail back to its origin, and finds a ring of trucks surrounded by scattered dead bodies. He decides to investigate and discovers a large sum of money, which he takes for himself and his wife.

However, all is not as it seems. A hitman has been hired to retrieve the money. The hitman, Anton Chigurh (played with intelligent menace by Javier Bardem), who has an odd penchant for killing his victims with a pressurized piston to the forehead, becomes aware of the money and Moss. He and Moss then spend much of the first two thirds of the movie in an elaborate game of intelligent cat-and-mouse.

Oddly, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by uber-star Tommy Lee Jones) does not make a significant appearance in the movie until the last third. This odd twist is only the one of many flirtations with convention that fill this rich movie.

In essense, the movie is fundamentally about unpredictability and the violation of convention. For example, near the end of the film, Chigurh (who has just committed an oddly henious and unnecessary crime), is driving down the road. Out of nowhere, he is t-boned by another vehicle and sustains a compound fracture of the left arm. The accident comes out of nowhere, and has little narrative purpose.

In another scene, Sherrif Bell is having a long discussion with Carla Jean Moss (Kelly Macdonald) during which he promises to try to protect her husband and herself. However, he does not follow through with either pledge, again violating movie norms and instilling a deep sense of unrest in the audience.

As the ending credits rolled, I found myself confused. Although the movie had been entertaining and fascinating, it offered none of the typical satisfactions contained within modern American cinema. There was no clear resolution, no redemption, no cathartic release from the uncomfortable demise of the antagnoist.

I felt entertained yet puzzled and somewhat uncomfortable. Dissatisfied to some extent–like the sneeze that teases the nostrils but does not appear.

I like the Coen’s honesty and courage in making this movie. Known for their unconventional thinking, this movie continues that trend with a vengence.

I give it *** Jessicas out of four. Not perfect, but quite good.

EK

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