No Country for Old Men *** ½ (out of ****)

Directors: Ethan and Joel Coen
Writers: Ethan and Joel Coen based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald, Tess Harper
Rating: R (language, violence)
Running Time: 122 min
Release Date: 11/8/07

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) has had a long career in law enforcement and is nearing retirement. The time is 1980 and in his county on the Mexican border in recent years had experienced a truly appalling increase in violent crime. He is the face of good in this film. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is sociopathic hitman who seems to really be very self-actualized in his chosen profession. He is the face of evil. Yet in this story they never actually encounter each other. There is no moral resolution.

The protagonist is Llewelyn Moss is a Vietnam veteran who served in the infantry. He lives in a trailer and works as a welder. He is out hunting one day and while tracking an animal he wounded stumbles on to the scene of a drug deal gone bad. Every one involved has been shot dead except for one man in a truck who is critically wounded. Llewelyn is neither purely good nor evil. The wounded man asks for water but Llewelyn has none. One thinks that he give him a drink if he could.

Llewelyn is focused on the big missing element: the money! Using his hunting skills he tracks down the man who had the money, a briefcase with a couple of million in $100 bills. This man has died of his wounds. Llewelyn is not so good that he doesn’t take the money, a .45 caliber automatic pistol, and a submachine gun.

If he had been evil he might just have got by with it but he is also part good. He decides to go back to the site with a jug of water to give to the wounded man in the truck. No good deed goes unpunished! When he arrives the wounded man has already died. Drug gang members soon show up and try to kill him. He evades this attack but they have his truck and license number. They will soon know his name, where he lives, etc. With Anton Chigurh on his tail he is as good as dead. But, he doesn’t go down without a fight.

Llewelyn arms himself with a 12 gauge sawed off shotgun and tries to hide in cheap motels. But Anton is on this tail with the determination of killer in a horror movie. There is a little surprise in the briefcase that Llewelyn discovers too late. Yet, as Anton is at his door, he perhaps has one last chance but he fires his shotgun before the door is opened rather than a after. A crucial mistake that ultimately is fatal. The pursuit will go on for sometime with Anton killing nearly everyone involved with the money including many people who just cross his path.

Meanwhile Sheriff Bell has also discovered the site of the deal gone bad and also tracks down Llewelyn’s trailer from the license on the truck. He is on the trail both to recover the money and to save Llewelyn’s life. Tommy Lee Jones’ delivery of lines is masterful in expressing his profound weariness with the way of crime in his county. His voice captures a profound sense of sadness and helplessness. As in other Coen’s brothers films a great focus is placed on regional dialects. Jones and the other actors are outstanding in bringing this element to the film.

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