"What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?"
Imagine you are walking through a deserted desert and you happen to come across a bunch of dead Mexicans – the result of a drug deal gone wrong. Trying to escape the scene of this crime, you see a briefcase containing $2 million of dirty money. What do you do? Do you pick it up, or leave it?
This is the emotional quandary put upon cowboy Llewellyn Moss in the Best Picture winning classic, No Country for Old Men. A few posts ago, I introduced my sub-list of the 1077 Films to See Before You Die, Jake's 10 Perfect Movies. This Coen Brothers master-work is the second film (or 9th countung down) to make my cut.
Based off the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, the film was a gritty breath of fresh air. The film itself featured a castlist that read off like a Hollywood guest list.
Tommy Lee Jones gives the performance of his career as Ed Tom Bell, the aging sheriff of a small Texas county. He is an important player in making No Country perfect. Though he does have limited screen time, he is still the main protagonist of the picture. Bell is captivating with his determination, yet sad in his old age. He does not have the same understanding of the West that he used to - which breaks our hearts.
But it would be silly to not mention the breakout character of No Country, Anton Chigurh. Played by Javier Bardem, Chigurh was horrifically grotesque. His dialogue was frightening, his actions were shocking and his weapons were dominating. The role has actually propelled Bardem to a household name and even won him an Academy Award for best Supporting Actor. Everything from his haircut to his mythos screamed psycho, and he carried himself almost in the fashion of a sadistic super-villian. I believe Chigurh will be remembered as one of film's finer bad guys.
With all of this considered, I still haven't named the most important part of the picture. Silence was the greatest contributor to the overall effect of the film. In fact, the film didn't even have enough background score to qualify for an Academy nomination. The simple sounds of a man breathing or door creaking creates a painfully tense experience that was uncomfortable for the viewer, but at the same time strangely rewarding. Most of Josh Brolin's on screen time is unpleasantly silent.
Though No Country was very well-recieved, there were some outsranding complaints upon release. For example, the Coens do choose to kill certain main characters off-screen. This frustrated viewers and critics alike, but I think it is brilliant. We, as viewers, were not treated to the visual of our hero's death - rather we are forced to imagine what happened. This trick also causes confusion that puts a filmgoer on an equal plain with Jones' character throughout the picture. We are lost in the frey of constantly changing events. And no matter how hard we try - we are constantly playing catch up. This is the genious that is Coen. They make you think.
But the single most perfect moment of No Country for Old Men is the final scene. In this memorable cliff-hanger, Jones lulls the audience to sleep with the telling of a dream that he had the night before. Before he is even able to finish his thoughts, the screen just turns to dark and the production is over. This is not a film that leaves you pumped or excited - or even fulfilled. It leaves you frustrated. It picks at your brain without any narrative compromise.
Painfully gorgeous and hard to swallow, the Coen Brothers have again captured the true darkness and loneliness of the west. The tough cat and mouse chase between Moss and Chigurh launched what I consider to be the greatest film of the 2000's. Some films from the 1077 Films to See Before You Die are horrible. Some, like No Counrty are perfect.
No Country for Old Men: A+
My Next Film....Rocky (Avildsen. 1976)
Jake's 10 Perfect Movies
10. Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)
9. No Country for Old Men (Coen Brothers. 2007)