A film that is difficult to place into just one particular genre, 2007s No Country for Old Men saw the Coen brothers win their first and perhaps long overdue Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. In a year for which its main rival was the equally nihilistic and violent There Will Be Blood the Coen’s film won a total of four Oscars and three BAFTAS. Set in the West Texas desert in the early 1980s the film is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy and tells the story of a man (Josh Brolin) who chances upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong and finds $2 million just waiting to be taken. He is chased by the vicious and merciless hit man Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) who is hired to get the money back. Both are in turn hunted down by local Sheriff Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who despite in being way over his head maintains a calm exterior in the face of the task in front of him. No Country for Old Men is the sort of film that I’d be happy to watch every five years or so but wouldn’t want to see it any more often than that. It is a supremely made movie which features some stunning performances and an interesting story but I found myself drifting more and more as it went on.
Frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins helps to create some absolutely breathtaking shots of the Texas desert which rival his work on The Assassination of Jesse James. One of the highlights of the film is his cinematography mixed with the Coen’s assured camera work. 2007 was certainly a very beautiful year for film. The whole design is stunning, from the costume and hair to the landscape itself. For someone unfamiliar with Texas the period details were almost subtle enough to be overlooked but there when it mattered. Without knowing it was a period piece I wouldn’t have guessed as the film doesn’t in any way rely on anything technological or modern to tell its story. The plot itself is very engaging if not wholly entertaining but does lose its way slightly towards the end. The first hour though is some of the most thrilling I’ve seen. The narrative is simple but effective and relies on great characters to propel it. Javier Bardem’s Chigurh is one of the most compelling screen villains I’ve ever witnessed and has an almost alien quality about him. He lacks any emotion and is single minded in the job at hand. His chosen weapon, a high pressured air gun, is an inspired choice and not something I’ve seen before. It further helps the film to separate itself from the competition.
For me the film can be compared quite easily to several of the Coen’s previous films but most notably Fargo. Both movies feature a psychopathic killer, themes of greed and nihilism and a local Cop out of their depth, trying to take down a killer from out of town. Fargo though has more of a comic tone and for me is the better film. The themes of discovery and fate are also both present here and in Raising Arizona. Like pretty much all of the Coen’s work, this is extremely well written and features wonderful dialogue. This when added to the Texas drawl creates some beautiful speech which is well delivered by the cast. Despite being satisfyingly violent, well written and beautifully shot, the film is not without its flaws and having scanned its current ratings on the likes of IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes it looks like I’ve decided there are more than most.
My biggest criticism of the film is its ending. After a tense and well crafted opening and solid middle the film just sort of peters out and then ends with a very abrupt whimper. I have nothing against open endings or even unhappy endings as this film tends to point towards but the lack of a satisfying ending here really disappointed me. When walking out of a cinema or turning a DVD off it’s often easy to forget the first hour of a film but the ending sticks with you. To end in the way as this does is very disappointing. I found myself getting fidgety towards the end too, perhaps as a result of realising that the best of the film was behind me. I also found it difficult to relate to any of the characters. We never get to know Josh Brolin’s character all that well and although Javier Bardem is brilliant we view him from a distance and never discover his motives or what drives him. The film lacks a central character at all really. The three leads are equally as large as each other but none is large enough to be considered the lead. Despite these problems though, No Country for Old Men is still a more than solid film which could have been great with a better final third and greater character development.