No Country for Old Men (2007), adapted from Corman McCarthy’s novel by directors/screenwriters/auteurs-of-our-age Ethan and Joel Coen, is a perfect match of story and storyteller.
Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss, a cowboy in modern Texas who returns from poaching trip with a fortune in drug money, is just smart enough to outrun trouble, but he’s a minor league talent in a major league showdown with a methodical mercenary (Javier Bardem, with an indeterminate accent and the creepiest haircut ever put on film). Yet the film belongs to Tommy Lee Jones’ laconic Sheriff Bell, a compassionate lawman and the film’s beating heart, who follows the trail of the corpses and becomes more disillusioned with every death he’s unable to prevent.
A model of simple, strong, evocative storytelling pared down to the bone, No Country is filled with richly-drawn characters and an enthralling story that builds merciless momentum. Cinematographer (and Oscar nominee) Roger Deakins gives it the feel of a primeval frontier with vivid yet stark images that appear to have been carved directly into the screen itself.
The Coens don’t offer that comforting sense of cosmic justice or poetic irony that most crime movies provide. Their world is neither compassionate nor cruel, simply indifferent and unforgiving of stupid mistakes and overweening arrogance, a fatal game of chance where a random encounter or the flip of a coin can mean the difference between life and death. Events spin out the control of everyone but the filmmakers, whose methodical deliberateness tracks every detail of the story. There are no random elements, just those details we don’t yet know, and that’s far more dangerous. It is a masterpiece in a career with no shortage of great cinema.
Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director(s) and Best Adapted Screenplay (among others).