Sunday, January 13, 2008

No Country for Old Men

In this allegorical crime drama based on Cormac McCarthy's book of the same name, director's Joel and Ethan Coen bring to life a surprisingly poignant story about wants and needs and the brutal violence that can be brought about by both. Josh Brolin stars as Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam vet barely getting by with his wife Carla Jean (Kelly McDonald) in a small town near the Rio Grande. During an afternoon of hunting, Moss stumbles upon the site of a drug deal gone very bad consisting of a significant number of bodies, one barely alive Mexican, a considerable amount of heroin and two and a half million dollars in cash, which he promptly takes. Because of an event I'll not disclose, the very bad men who want their money back become aware of Moss's existence and contract sociopathic killer Anton Chigurgh (pronounced 'sugar' and played by Javier Badem) to find Moss and return the money. Moss, now on his own and having hopefully sent his wife to safety must try and outwit or, at least, out pace the pure evil that is Chigurgh. Back in town, the local Sheriff, Ed Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), is on the verge of retirement but has suddenly found himself in the middle of a series of murders that speak of a twisted apathetic individual possessing a ruthless cunning and wanton disregard for life. As Bell continues to piece together the events in an effort to track Moss and the suspect, he begins to fear the outcome of the convergence of their paths as well as question his own career.

I'll really be surprised if this film doesn't garner some serious Oscar recognition. Tommy Lee Jones, as usual, provides a strong but subtle performance as Sheriff Bell while Josh Brolin's portrayal of Moss is surprisingly fresh from an actor who has been around for some time but has never received any significant accolades. However, for me, the standout performance had to be that of Javier Badem as Anton Chigurgh. Badem masterfully captures the 'spirit' of a sociopath with unnerving results, to the point where it seems as if the character is continuously having an out-of-body experience which allows him to monitor his actions from the perspective of an observer and, thus, totally disassociate himself from any emotional connection that would normally be equated with such heinous acts. I should also mention that Woody Harrelson has a small but notable role as a bounty hunter named Carson Wells whose screen time is as comedic as it is unsettling. Lastly, the Coen brothers should be recognized for an amazing screenplay and their direction of the film in general because, if your familiar with their work, it's obvious that in this movie, as in some of their past features, they worked very closely with the cast and and made a point to emphasize each individual from the lead characters down to the least significant supporting role.

Overall, I thought this was an exceptionally well told story with the perfect amount of character development coupled with a believable premise. I really enjoyed this film and I'm looking forward to seeing it again when it's released on disc in March. I'm always fond of movies that begin with someone having a normal, uneventful day and suddenly things go haywire and this is one of those great stories that transpire simply because of a single, questionable action, and had it not occurred, the story would have been about ten minutes long, if that. Granted, the specific action serves to not only create the story but act as a window into the protagonist's personality, as well, while juxtaposing the actions and personality of the antagonist, Anton Chigurgh. However, in my opinion, had the main character, Moss, taken the opposite action, I would actually have considered him a smarter, but less empathetic character and it should suffice to say that if I ever find myself in a similar situation, my story will be the ten minute version.

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