Review: “No Country for Old Men”

A decade ago the Coen brothers hit their peak with “Fargo ” and “The Big Lebowski” in quick succession. Since then however its been a steady downhill slide, hitting bottom with 2004’s odious remake of “The Ladykillers,” a film which made many people give up on the chance the pair could ever make a comeback.

Like a phoenix however, they’ve risen from the ashes renewed with ‘No Country’, a perfectly realized modern-day western thriller that combines moments of hard-edged violence, several sequences of astonishingly taut suspense, frequent interjections of deliciously dry and laconic humor, and introspective flashes of lament on how not only the world has changed but the way our perspectives do as we get older.

It’s a testament to their skill how ‘Country’ seamlessly moves from one genre to the other, almost always taking turns you’d never expect. Using the Cormac McCarthy novel as the basis for their story, the pair have managed to create a truly cinematic tale from a story by one of the few authors of today who thankfully doesn’t write his books as pseudo-screenplays.

This makes it surprising when I hear complaints about the open and rather abrupt ending as everything leading up to it makes that point to end the film on perfectly sound.

The narrative often defies convention, but remains unremitting and unrelenting in its realistic depiction of the setting, the characters and their actions.

Tommy Lee Jones as the wryly amused but haunted sheriff, a surprisingly strong Josh Brolin as a rancher who’s chance to get out comes at too high a price, Woody Harrelson as a cocksure bounty hunter, and Javier Bardem as a ruthless airgun-wielding hitman all deliver awards-caliber work.

Whilst we get glimpses of beauty in the desolate west, the most memorable moments of the film are set around several rundown motels where the pair milk genius moments of tension with just silhouettes and steady footsteps (there’s also a great moment involving a river chase and a vicious dog).

It is a bloody and grisly film at times, but this is one of those few times where the violence and gore are not just necessary but essential. On first viewing its simply thrilling, on subsequent viewing I get the feeling this will only grow in estimation.