Images linger in grim ‘No Country for Old Men’

by Eric Melin on November 23, 2007

in Print Reviews

Ever since their first movie, 1985’s low budget neo-noir “Blood Simple,” the writing and directing team known as the Coen brothers have always been visual stylists—not in a rich-art-direction-Baz Luhrmann (who fills every frame of “Moulin Rouge” to the limit with splashes of color) kind of way, but more in a Gregg Toland-deliberate-camera-placement-and-lighting-scheme kind of way. Over the years, this style has become less showy and more evocative. In their latest film, “No Country for Old Men,” they prove they can hold an audience in thrall with the simplest of cinema’s elements—a memorable image.

Joel and Ethan’s violent and beautiful new movie, an adaptation of a 2005 Cormac McCarthy novel, is overflowing with expressive camera shots that still linger in my mind: the silhouette of a lone truck atop a hill, a boot-scuffed floor that looks like a crazed charcoal drawing, the crack of light beneath a door blotted out by a menacing shadow. Their significance to the story—a profoundly disturbing tale of single-minded destruction—cannot be underestimated. These images are as important as any character, and the formalistic prowess that the Coens wield in “No Country” is as electrifying as it is effortless.

brolin no country for old men coensThe mere sight of an airtank will be enough to send shivers down my spine for some time after witnessing how it is used with a retractable bolt gun in the hands of remorseless killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). He’s after a Vietnam veteran who lives in a Texas trailer park named Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who finds himself in deep when he comes upon the remnants of a drug deal gone bad. (Even this wordless scene has a surreal quality.) The classic noir setup finds Moss unable to resist the temptation of $2 million, even though he knows it comes with a heavy price. Meanwhile, an old sheriff nearing retirement named Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tracks Moss, not so much to recover the stolen loot, but mostly to save him from the wrath of Chigurh. To call this simply a chase movie, however, would be to underestimate its brooding power. There is so much more at work here than visceral thrills.

That said, “No Country for Old Men” is also the scariest film I’ve seen all year. Moments that would normally be cut out of lesser, quicker-paced movies are the lifeblood of this one. There are frequent bursts of striking violence, but the Coens also take the time to show the life-changing moments right after something shocking has just taken place. The manner of death or serious injury is not nearly important as showing how the survivors deal with it.

Sheriff Bell doesn’t care for it at all. Jones’ dialogue is humble, but poetic. Interspersed throughout Chigurh’s propensity for casual bloodshed, the sheriff’s musings are a welcome respite from a high body count, and an elegy for a bygone breed of man—one who didn’t need a gun to be a lawman. His opening narration sets a philosophical tone, as he talks of staring into the face of a convicted killer with little understanding about what this world has come to. In this way, “No Country” works as a sort of companion piece to the Coens’ best movie, 1996’s “Fargo.” Both have very specific locales and characters that typify those areas, and both are about man’s propensity for unthinkable callousness, and a stubborn resolve to not let it change you.

“Fargo”’s Minnesota Sheriff Marge Gunderson is perplexed by her case’s seemingly aimless violence, where Texas Sheriff Bell is more reflective and despondent. Marge can claim victory over this symptom of the universe (she finds happiness the little things, such as her husband’s prize-winning three-cent stamp), whereas Bell sees it as a trend; something bigger and more sinister. In “No Country,” the decision to decision to dole out death is even more random than “Fargo.” Chigurh decides some of his possible victims’ fates by a mere coin toss—a truly black-hearted amusement. Marge had a very determined Midwestern sense of keep-on-keeping-on, but in “No Country,” it seems that there is no hope.

no country for old men bardemThe Coens’ dialogue is lean and purposeful. Nothing is wasted. In fact, Moss has about as little dialogue as any main character I’ve seen outside of silent film. Like his pursuer’s method of killing, the storytelling in “No Country” is plenty efficient. Moss travels alone, trying to stay one step ahead of death, and every scene without dialogue is there for a reason. It gives the audience a lot of time to second guess the motives for his actions, while we also ask ourselves what we would do. Moss is easy to identify with. He knows he’s making a mistake, but thinks he’s smart enough to make his decision worth the risk. It is this dread-filled atmosphere that imbues even the most harmless of images (like cloud shadows moving in over the vast desert floor) with a heavy dose of foreboding. In the context of what we’ve seen already, it’s enough to put a big lump in your throat.

Can a movie be beautiful and terrifying at the same time? Yes. “No County for Old Men” proves it. There are plenty of gorgeous landscapes that are beautifully shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, but these are not pretty for aesthetics’ sake. It is their emptiness that lingers. Just like another running visual motif of trails of blood on the ground, these shots are infused with dread— reminders that the wounded cannot hide. Once the damage is done, your chances of getting out alive are smaller and smaller.

“No Country for Old Men” reminds us that our existence on this planet is equal parts fulfilling and completely senseless. The Coens, often times accused of regarding their characters too clinically, feel this deeply. They are not downplaying this fact, although it does make things ripe for their trademark gallows humor. Sheriff Bell says that Chigurh is “like a ghost,” but he feels more like the Angel of Death, and he doesn’t knock.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ChrisKnudsen November 27, 2007 at 7:50 am

I guess this movie was good. More words later.

Reply

2 ChrisKnudsen November 27, 2007 at 7:50 am

I guess this movie was good. More words later.

Reply

3 ChrisKnudsen November 27, 2007 at 7:50 am

I guess this movie was good. More words later.

Reply

4 Eric Melin November 27, 2007 at 9:41 am

Chris-

Don’t tease. I’m waiting with baited breath.

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5 Eric Melin November 27, 2007 at 9:41 am

Chris-

Don’t tease. I’m waiting with baited breath.

Reply

6 Eric Melin November 27, 2007 at 9:41 am

Chris-

Don’t tease. I’m waiting with baited breath.

Reply

7 Brian "damage" Brooks November 29, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Eric,
I definitely agree with your review of this movie. Rarely has a film stuck with me for so long that I’ve sought out reviews of the film AFTER watching it to better grasp what I just witnessed. The Coens have definitely found their best material yet in this McCarthy book, and have really kept true to the narrative and feel of the story. Their use of space and foreboding only heightens that tension, creating one of the creepiest movies I think I’ve seen in years. And again, to the Coen brother’s credit, “No Country” is one of their most human stories of their catalog of work.

Reply

8 Brian "damage" Brooks November 29, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Eric,
I definitely agree with your review of this movie. Rarely has a film stuck with me for so long that I’ve sought out reviews of the film AFTER watching it to better grasp what I just witnessed. The Coens have definitely found their best material yet in this McCarthy book, and have really kept true to the narrative and feel of the story. Their use of space and foreboding only heightens that tension, creating one of the creepiest movies I think I’ve seen in years. And again, to the Coen brother’s credit, “No Country” is one of their most human stories of their catalog of work.

Reply

9 Brian "damage" Brooks November 29, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Eric,
I definitely agree with your review of this movie. Rarely has a film stuck with me for so long that I’ve sought out reviews of the film AFTER watching it to better grasp what I just witnessed. The Coens have definitely found their best material yet in this McCarthy book, and have really kept true to the narrative and feel of the story. Their use of space and foreboding only heightens that tension, creating one of the creepiest movies I think I’ve seen in years. And again, to the Coen brother’s credit, “No Country” is one of their most human stories of their catalog of work.

Reply

10 ChrisKnudsen November 30, 2007 at 7:21 am

DON’T READ IF YOU WANT THE MOVIE TO BE SPOILED

I throught the film was fine for what it is (old cop sort of chasing down a killer who kills who is the protaginist of the story and offscreen, mind you and in which the cop wants to die on duty instead of retiring and living the days just remembering memories). What it should have been was Die Hard 4.

END OF SPOILERS.

Reply

11 ChrisKnudsen November 30, 2007 at 7:21 am

DON’T READ IF YOU WANT THE MOVIE TO BE SPOILED

I throught the film was fine for what it is (old cop sort of chasing down a killer who kills who is the protaginist of the story and offscreen, mind you and in which the cop wants to die on duty instead of retiring and living the days just remembering memories). What it should have been was Die Hard 4.

END OF SPOILERS.

Reply

12 ChrisKnudsen November 30, 2007 at 7:21 am

DON’T READ IF YOU WANT THE MOVIE TO BE SPOILED

I throught the film was fine for what it is (old cop sort of chasing down a killer who kills who is the protaginist of the story and offscreen, mind you and in which the cop wants to die on duty instead of retiring and living the days just remembering memories). What it should have been was Die Hard 4.

END OF SPOILERS.

Reply

13 Eric Melin November 30, 2007 at 8:36 am

What a fantastically reductive way to think about it. Geez, Chris. There wasn’t a lot of chasing by Jones at all, actually.

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14 Eric Melin November 30, 2007 at 8:36 am

What a fantastically reductive way to think about it. Geez, Chris. There wasn’t a lot of chasing by Jones at all, actually.

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15 Eric Melin November 30, 2007 at 8:36 am

What a fantastically reductive way to think about it. Geez, Chris. There wasn’t a lot of chasing by Jones at all, actually.

Reply

16 ChrisKnudsen December 6, 2007 at 5:15 am

That is why I said “sort of” dude. The more I think about it, the more I like it and it is in the top 10 films of the year that is for sure. “Into the Wild” is having the same effect on me but after watching it, I just didn’t even really like it. “I’m Not There” is in my top 3 films of the year. “Lust, Caution” finally comes to Lawrence on Friday. Also, I saw “Lars and the Real Girl” yesterday. It was warm but nothing that I will remember in 2 weeks. Probably a **1/2 to *** movie.

Hoo-ray for the Lemonheads on Sunday.

Reply

17 ChrisKnudsen December 6, 2007 at 5:15 am

That is why I said “sort of” dude. The more I think about it, the more I like it and it is in the top 10 films of the year that is for sure. “Into the Wild” is having the same effect on me but after watching it, I just didn’t even really like it. “I’m Not There” is in my top 3 films of the year. “Lust, Caution” finally comes to Lawrence on Friday. Also, I saw “Lars and the Real Girl” yesterday. It was warm but nothing that I will remember in 2 weeks. Probably a **1/2 to *** movie.

Hoo-ray for the Lemonheads on Sunday.

Reply

18 ChrisKnudsen December 6, 2007 at 5:15 am

That is why I said “sort of” dude. The more I think about it, the more I like it and it is in the top 10 films of the year that is for sure. “Into the Wild” is having the same effect on me but after watching it, I just didn’t even really like it. “I’m Not There” is in my top 3 films of the year. “Lust, Caution” finally comes to Lawrence on Friday. Also, I saw “Lars and the Real Girl” yesterday. It was warm but nothing that I will remember in 2 weeks. Probably a **1/2 to *** movie.

Hoo-ray for the Lemonheads on Sunday.

Reply

19 Jon Sholly December 10, 2007 at 4:37 pm

I can’t help but think that Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is one of the scariest film characters ever. Give that man an Oscar! And he has the dumbest hair too! How incredibly great. I can do nothing but wholeheartedly agree with your review. God bless you dear boy. . .

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20 Jon Sholly December 10, 2007 at 4:37 pm

I can’t help but think that Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is one of the scariest film characters ever. Give that man an Oscar! And he has the dumbest hair too! How incredibly great. I can do nothing but wholeheartedly agree with your review. God bless you dear boy. . .

Reply

21 Jon Sholly December 10, 2007 at 4:37 pm

I can’t help but think that Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh is one of the scariest film characters ever. Give that man an Oscar! And he has the dumbest hair too! How incredibly great. I can do nothing but wholeheartedly agree with your review. God bless you dear boy. . .

Reply

22 Gordon Humpherys December 24, 2007 at 1:04 pm

“He’s after a Vietnam veteran who lives in a Texas trailer park named Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin)”

The trailer park is NOT named Llewellyn Moss. It matters.

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23 Gordon Humpherys December 24, 2007 at 1:04 pm

“He’s after a Vietnam veteran who lives in a Texas trailer park named Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin)”

The trailer park is NOT named Llewellyn Moss. It matters.

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24 Gordon Humpherys December 24, 2007 at 1:04 pm

“He’s after a Vietnam veteran who lives in a Texas trailer park named Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin)”

The trailer park is NOT named Llewellyn Moss. It matters.

Reply

25 Eric Melin December 24, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Very funny, Gordon, making fun of my poor sentence structure!

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26 Eric Melin December 24, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Very funny, Gordon, making fun of my poor sentence structure!

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27 Eric Melin December 24, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Very funny, Gordon, making fun of my poor sentence structure!

Reply

28 jim p January 2, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Great review. I was raised on a ranch in that area of West Texas. The one issue I had with the movie was the severe east Texas accents of the locals – not accurate (i.e. the guy that was killed with the air gun in the car is a good friend of mine – the president of a bank out there – does not talk that way at all!). But, otherwise, the movie was great. And very reflective of the feeling you have living along our Southern border.

Reply

29 jim p January 2, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Great review. I was raised on a ranch in that area of West Texas. The one issue I had with the movie was the severe east Texas accents of the locals – not accurate (i.e. the guy that was killed with the air gun in the car is a good friend of mine – the president of a bank out there – does not talk that way at all!). But, otherwise, the movie was great. And very reflective of the feeling you have living along our Southern border.

Reply

30 jim p January 2, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Great review. I was raised on a ranch in that area of West Texas. The one issue I had with the movie was the severe east Texas accents of the locals – not accurate (i.e. the guy that was killed with the air gun in the car is a good friend of mine – the president of a bank out there – does not talk that way at all!). But, otherwise, the movie was great. And very reflective of the feeling you have living along our Southern border.

Reply

31 Dick T January 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm

If a movie’s value is based on how much you talk about and think about it afterwards….then No Country…is one of the best. Great review. Because I went to school in Las Vegas, NM, I recognized the landscape (confirmed in the credits). Great movie.

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32 Dick T January 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm

If a movie’s value is based on how much you talk about and think about it afterwards….then No Country…is one of the best. Great review. Because I went to school in Las Vegas, NM, I recognized the landscape (confirmed in the credits). Great movie.

Reply

33 Dick T January 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm

If a movie’s value is based on how much you talk about and think about it afterwards….then No Country…is one of the best. Great review. Because I went to school in Las Vegas, NM, I recognized the landscape (confirmed in the credits). Great movie.

Reply

34 Eric Melin January 8, 2008 at 5:57 pm

I think that’s one of the only ways to subscribe value to a film. This year, there was a lot of great movies to discuss, such as “There Will Be Blood,” “Zodiac,” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” but no movie seems to have sparked as much imagination and theory as this one. It’s not going away anytime soon. And, I’m sure that when the DVD comes out, the Coens will reveal no mysteries. They never do. If they did, people might stop taling about it.

Reply

35 Eric Melin January 8, 2008 at 5:57 pm

I think that’s one of the only ways to subscribe value to a film. This year, there was a lot of great movies to discuss, such as “There Will Be Blood,” “Zodiac,” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” but no movie seems to have sparked as much imagination and theory as this one. It’s not going away anytime soon. And, I’m sure that when the DVD comes out, the Coens will reveal no mysteries. They never do. If they did, people might stop taling about it.

Reply

36 Eric Melin January 8, 2008 at 5:57 pm

I think that’s one of the only ways to subscribe value to a film. This year, there was a lot of great movies to discuss, such as “There Will Be Blood,” “Zodiac,” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” but no movie seems to have sparked as much imagination and theory as this one. It’s not going away anytime soon. And, I’m sure that when the DVD comes out, the Coens will reveal no mysteries. They never do. If they did, people might stop taling about it.

Reply

37 Rick January 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

The fact that our killer is still running loose albiet a broken arm, guarantees some sort of sequel.Sheriff Bell needs something to do instead of retire.And many more bodies will be found naturally.No Country For Old Men is a great movie,and screams for part two.

Reply

38 Rick January 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

The fact that our killer is still running loose albiet a broken arm, guarantees some sort of sequel.Sheriff Bell needs something to do instead of retire.And many more bodies will be found naturally.No Country For Old Men is a great movie,and screams for part two.

Reply

39 Rick January 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

The fact that our killer is still running loose albiet a broken arm, guarantees some sort of sequel.Sheriff Bell needs something to do instead of retire.And many more bodies will be found naturally.No Country For Old Men is a great movie,and screams for part two.

Reply

40 Kevin Elliott January 18, 2008 at 12:33 pm

I had this big long post written up about the movie, but then I reallized, I don’t review movies, and I don’t like being this wordy… So instead I will just say, very well said Eric. I enjoyed this film very much.

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41 Kevin Elliott January 18, 2008 at 12:33 pm

I had this big long post written up about the movie, but then I reallized, I don’t review movies, and I don’t like being this wordy… So instead I will just say, very well said Eric. I enjoyed this film very much.

Reply

42 Kevin Elliott January 18, 2008 at 12:33 pm

I had this big long post written up about the movie, but then I reallized, I don’t review movies, and I don’t like being this wordy… So instead I will just say, very well said Eric. I enjoyed this film very much.

Reply

43 nate January 27, 2008 at 3:41 pm

So, I saw “NO Country” last night with my gf, and walked away a bit confused. It wasn’t until later that night that I decided to start reading some blogs to find out what other people thought of it. I believe I am now at peace with the movie, but I still have one question. There may be nothing to this, but why did Bell always avoid going back to that crime scene in the desert? Was it because he knew it could be his date with death and he was trying to side-step the “inevitable?”

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44 nate January 27, 2008 at 3:41 pm

So, I saw “NO Country” last night with my gf, and walked away a bit confused. It wasn’t until later that night that I decided to start reading some blogs to find out what other people thought of it. I believe I am now at peace with the movie, but I still have one question. There may be nothing to this, but why did Bell always avoid going back to that crime scene in the desert? Was it because he knew it could be his date with death and he was trying to side-step the “inevitable?”

Reply

45 nate January 27, 2008 at 3:41 pm

So, I saw “NO Country” last night with my gf, and walked away a bit confused. It wasn’t until later that night that I decided to start reading some blogs to find out what other people thought of it. I believe I am now at peace with the movie, but I still have one question. There may be nothing to this, but why did Bell always avoid going back to that crime scene in the desert? Was it because he knew it could be his date with death and he was trying to side-step the “inevitable?”

Reply

46 Dave February 7, 2008 at 10:57 pm

The Coens don’t do sequels.

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47 Dave February 7, 2008 at 10:57 pm

The Coens don’t do sequels.

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48 Dave February 7, 2008 at 10:57 pm

The Coens don’t do sequels.

Reply

49 Linda Douglas March 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm

I loved the movie! I found it to be quite intense on an edge of your seat sort of way. This movie definitely caused me to reflect on it and discuss it with others for quite some time. It certainly illustrates the talent of the Coen brothers. EXCELLENT! However, is there any relevance on the cover of the DVD to the name Tommy Lee Jones being placed under the picture of Josh Brolin and Brolin’s name is placed under Tommy Lee Jones’ picture ? Is this intentional?
I cannot say enough how I enjoyed this movie. The fact that I’m still thinking about it and discussing it long after viewing it is indication I’m sure.

Reply

50 Linda Douglas March 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm

I loved the movie! I found it to be quite intense on an edge of your seat sort of way. This movie definitely caused me to reflect on it and discuss it with others for quite some time. It certainly illustrates the talent of the Coen brothers. EXCELLENT! However, is there any relevance on the cover of the DVD to the name Tommy Lee Jones being placed under the picture of Josh Brolin and Brolin’s name is placed under Tommy Lee Jones’ picture ? Is this intentional?
I cannot say enough how I enjoyed this movie. The fact that I’m still thinking about it and discussing it long after viewing it is indication I’m sure.

Reply

51 Linda Douglas March 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm

I loved the movie! I found it to be quite intense on an edge of your seat sort of way. This movie definitely caused me to reflect on it and discuss it with others for quite some time. It certainly illustrates the talent of the Coen brothers. EXCELLENT! However, is there any relevance on the cover of the DVD to the name Tommy Lee Jones being placed under the picture of Josh Brolin and Brolin’s name is placed under Tommy Lee Jones’ picture ? Is this intentional?
I cannot say enough how I enjoyed this movie. The fact that I’m still thinking about it and discussing it long after viewing it is indication I’m sure.

Reply

52 Eric Melin March 27, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Linda-
I don’t think so. The order in which names appear in credits and on posters/DVD boxes is often decided before the design is even settled on. Stars have contracts about where their name will appear (First, top left, middle, etc.) and it has nothing to do with the cover art!

Reply

53 Eric Melin March 27, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Linda-
I don’t think so. The order in which names appear in credits and on posters/DVD boxes is often decided before the design is even settled on. Stars have contracts about where their name will appear (First, top left, middle, etc.) and it has nothing to do with the cover art!

Reply

54 Eric Melin March 27, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Linda-
I don’t think so. The order in which names appear in credits and on posters/DVD boxes is often decided before the design is even settled on. Stars have contracts about where their name will appear (First, top left, middle, etc.) and it has nothing to do with the cover art!

Reply

55 Lindy December 25, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I’m looking for the answer to this question: What movie is Llewellyn’s wife watching when we first meet her? I’ve just started looking for the answer on the web so maybe I’m almost there – or maybe not. I bet it’s not “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

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56 Lindy December 25, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I’m looking for the answer to this question: What movie is Llewellyn’s wife watching when we first meet her? I’ve just started looking for the answer on the web so maybe I’m almost there – or maybe not. I bet it’s not “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Reply

57 Lindy December 25, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I’m looking for the answer to this question: What movie is Llewellyn’s wife watching when we first meet her? I’ve just started looking for the answer on the web so maybe I’m almost there – or maybe not. I bet it’s not “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Reply

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