The genre of thriller is often a widely used misnomer in the movie world for films involving detectives searching for clues to murders. To really make it thrilling some director may even throw in a car chase or some artistically lit rumpy pumpy. This is all rather lazy and predictable and probably the reason most thrillers are about as thrilling as a wet weekend in Margate.
Fortunately, the Coen Brother's redefine the genre with this modern classic that bagged a hatful of Oscars and gave a shot in the arm to the careers of both Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem. Not so much a modern day The Good, The Bad And The Ugly but The Old, The Brave and The Nutcase the movie is so utterly engrossing that at times I caught myself peering open mouthed at the unfolding tension.
No Country For Old Men is a literary adaptation of Cormack McCarthy's tense classic about washed-up Vietnam vet Llewlyn Moss (mustachioed Josh Brolin) who stumbles upon a drug-deal-gone-wrong whilst hunting in the deserts on the Mexican border. Amid the carnage and dead bodies is a bag containing $2 million. He decides that none of the corpses are going to need the loot any time soon and decides to liberate the money in order to build a better life for him and his trailer park wife Carla Jean (Kelly McDonald).
Problem is that no-one is going to let $2 million disappear without a fight and sadistic "collector" Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is sent to retrieve the cash. Picking up the pieces is world weary Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) whose laconic investigation follows the trail of destruction.
The film is a distant cousin of another Coen classic, Fargo. It's has a similar collection of nobodies, the same jet black humour and this time substitutes the stark icescapes of North Dakota for the barren deserts of Texas. They both involve murder, ill gotten gains and the long arm of the law.
The cat and mouse chase between Bardem and Brolin is a joy to behold. Street-wise Moss continually tries to stay one step ahead of the single-minded Chigurh with all manner of cautionary steps seemingly without success.
Bardem's terrifying performance as Chigurh is the stand out performance and in the same league as other legendary big-screen psychopaths Hannibal Lector and Norman Bates. He defines the word unhinged, with his own warped set of morals and ludicrous haircut he dispatches his victims with a sadistic calm. The scene involving Chigurh verbally battering a shop keeper is a masterclass of timing and dialogue.
"What's it to you where I'm from friendo?"
Tommy Lee Jones' measured melancholia is the perfect antidote to Bardem's all encompassing madness. As the old man in the films title Jones has a hard time accepting that the world is going to hell in a handcart. His old fashioned values are completely at odds with the rampaging menace he is tracking down. On the verge of retirement he is always that one step behind the killer but is resigned to the fact that despite his experience he is totally unprepared to tackle this force of nature.
I didn't realise at the time but the film's virtual lack of musical score inadvertently creates a really tense atmosphere where you are forced to pay attention to all the elements that pass you by in standard films such as creaking doors, traffic noise etc. This is obviously a deliberate ploy to focus you on the details and creates a heightened sense of reality. There were a few occasions where a jumped out of my seat, not something I'm inclined to do very often.
Roger Deakin's deserves special praise fine cinematography showcasing one of the few forgotten corners of the U.S. in all its stark majesty. A no man's land where law and order does not always have the upper hand.
Despite the many positives the film isn't perfect. It does drag on a tad too long in its efforts to be as faithful to the novel as possible, Tommy Lee Jones southern drawl is at times unintelligble and the ending is anti-climactic and leaves you wondering where the missing reel went.