Let's just say that I'm tremendously grateful that this Writer's strike didn't take place before "No Country For Old Men" was produced. Without exaggeration, this is a perfect film. Now do I have your attention?
PLOT: Taking place in 1980s West Texas, this is a classic tale of good versus evil and the choices we make that determine where we fall in that spectrum. Take the good: local Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who looks out at his world with sad exasperation. Then there's the evil, a soulless killing machine named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). And in the middle is a rather unremarkable man, Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin),who stumbles across a satchel filled with $2 million while hunting one day. Again, it's about choices, and Moss decides that he can control his own fate by taking the money and going on the run.
Moss sends his young wife back to her Mother's place to hide out as he tries to fend off the men chasing him and the money. As the body count goes up, so does Sheriff Bell's apprehension. This is not a typical cop and robbers story where the policeman is sifting through evidence, piecing together the story and staying on the heels of the bad guys. There's a moment where Bell and his Deputy are within minutes of catching Anton, but instead of dashing out of the building after the villain, Bell takes a deep breath and hopes internally that he doesn't get sucked into the tornado of violence that's building. And Anton is not concerned about who may be after him either. He moves at the speed of a Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. And the horror analogy applies here, because for the most part we don't get much insight into Anton's character. But that doesn't mean he is without substance. There are two moments in the movie where Anton elects to put a person's own life in their hands. He flips a coin before his potential victim and tells them to "Call it." In one instance, the person calls the toss. But in the other, the person refuses. And this is what I refer to earlier about making choices. From Anton's perspective, he's not choosing to kill anybody. His victims are the ones that have sealed their own fate. So, when people say to Anton "You don't have to do this," he is completely unimpressed. But when one victim puts the choice squarely on Anton, that's when you see him finally face his own nature.
THOUGHTS: This film is an example of technique. The acting is flawless. From the main characters down to those who appear for a scant few seconds, you believe the world in which this story is set. And the words they speak are both authentic and interesting. On the production side, the sound editing is incredibly good. When you hear boots on gravel, you are transported to this place. When you hear the whine-pitch of Anton's air tank and stun gun, you cringe at it's use. And the camera work shifts between being placid and sinister throughout the movie.
It's hard to get into the nitty-gritty themes of this movie without giving too much away. But temptation constantly appears in front of Moss (and his wife to a lesser degree), and each time he succumbs to it, he closes the circle of his own fate around him. And the symbolism of Sheriff Bell as God's son and Anton as the Devil incarnate are subtle enough that you don't feel the filmmakers are bashing you over the head with their ideas. But as a modern day "Expulsion from Paradise" this is the best morality play I've seen, period.
While "No Country For Old Men" is an example of cinematic perfection, it is not a movie for the masses. It is quite violent. There are no conventional moments of humor either (but there are some funny parts). And you don't get a typical resolution at the end. In short, it's not a crowd-pleaser. It's a challenging film, and one that surprised me several times throughout. I recommend it to anyone that wants the same film-going experience.
WHAT WOULD JACK DO?: Okay, to keep it 24-related, like I mentioned above, people say to Anton repeatedly "You don't have to do this!" Well, Jack Bauer says this a lot when he's facing down terrorists. Anton would have made a superb villain on "24" as he is a killer without a conscience or a typical agenda. He kills, plain and simple. So, Jack would have to basically drop a nuke on this guy to do away with him, and even then, it may not be finished. There are bad guys and then there is evil. Jack may need more than 24 hours to handle this one.
SCORE: (out of a possible five sacks)
Yeah, that's six out of five!