7. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)
The film opens with a sequence of shots that each subtly builds to the next. The sunrise and the mountains represent light and land. A windmill represents man. Fences represent boundaries. A police car represents the law. Light, land, man, boundaries and law. This helps establish the location we are entering in No Country for Old Men, in one amazingly crafted sequence with Tommy Lee Jones narrating in the background.
The film is about a man named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who finds a drug deal gone bad and steals 2 million dollars from the site. Moss’ greed leads him to a cat and mouse chase with Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a hit man sent to retrieve the 2 million dollars. In the middle of this mess, sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to intervene the violence and solve the problem with the law.
One of the key factors that makes No Country for Old Men great is how meticulously the Coen brothers crafted each scene. Each scene is so well shot and well edited that you just want to keep watching. The lack of music in the film and use of shadows in the film help build great tension. But when the scene ends, the next scene automatically sucks you in. Continuing with the cinematography, editing and music, the Coen brothers use these three key tools of film to create a stark and lonely feeling in the film.
The dialogue is as great as ever which is no surprise since the Coen brothers wrote the film. The Coen brothers wrote other great films, such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, both of which have extremely memorable dialogue. The dialogue in No Country for Old Men brings life to the Texas setting of the film and really gives the place its own character. One particular scene with amazing dialogue is a scene where Anton Chigurh stops by at a rundown gas station and gets annoyed by the owner. He then flips a coin and tells the owner to call it. The owner is confused and extremely nervous. We feel nervous because we know Chigurh is leaving the owner’s life to chance but the owner himself doesn’t. The tension in this scene is unbelievable. The dialogue spoken by Anton Chigurh is terrifying as he keeps implying the owner’s possible death. Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is hands down one of the most terrifying performances ever along with Heath Ledger as The Joker and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. The subtlety of his movements, the grim-reaper presence and the blank stare all make him horrifying. The use of silence also builds great tension and suspense. Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud if he was alive to see the film. When the owner calls the coin correct, I feel more relieved than when I got a good score on a test I thought I had failed. Another great thing about the writing is how intricately plotted the story is. The story could have easily become a mess with its three storylines and extreme clichés. But the Coen brothers decided not to use a conventional climactic ending. I won’t spoil the ending but the ending adds philosophical depth to this neo-noir western thriller like no other film. I praise the Coen brothers for adding more depth to the usual cat and mouse chase story.
This is Coen brothers’ finest film to date and I think their entire career was building up to this one film. No Country for Old Men is more than a thriller but rather a character study of the good and the bad. Are they really all that different? The protagonist is a good man but plagued by the hamartia of greed and pride (people who have watched or read The Fault in Our Stars, you should know what a hamartia is). The antagonist violently kills people but is not plagued by greed but rather a sense of righteousness. The film is about human nature and fate, not in the religious redeeming way but in the nihilistic, cynical way that fate is something we should be afraid of. Smart thrillers seem to be a dying specie and here is one. What a miracle.