Screenwriter: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones
Running time: 122 mins
The Coen Brothers return to form with an engrossing thriller oozing with a primal sense of fear alongside dashes of their trademark quirky humour. Packed with stunning performances and taut direction, No Country For Old Men surprisingly falls just short of true masterpiece status courtesy of a distinctly unsatisfying ending.
Based on Cormac McCarthy's novel, the film's narrative unravels the tale of an ill-fated drugs deal in the desolate, unforgiving countryside of West Texas in 1980. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the massacre caused by the botched transaction and swipes a cash-filled case from the newly deceased 'last man standing' in the valley. However, amongst the money is hidden a tracking device that Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), an evil assassin with a skewed sense of justice, mercilessly pursues at all costs.
At the heart of No Country For Old Men is a simple yet brutal 'cat and mouse' thriller that evokes Steven Spielberg's magnificent Duel in terms of its relentless pursuit of the hunted hunter Llewelyn. The Coens use their unique vision to make the contrasting urban and country environments into ideal, deserted stalking grounds, cleverly matched by the serene pacing of direction. There's no contrived quick cuts or flashy camerawork to artificially generate the suspense and the film is much more powerful for that.
The fundamental sense of the film and central protagonists relying on their basic instincts is underlined by a neatly depicted visual metaphor established near the start of the film, where Llewelyn stalks his animal prey via trails of blood in the vast expanses of the desert-like landscape. Soon, it's his 'scent' - the transmitter - that is being sniffed by Chigurh.
Frustratingly, after a series of ridiculously exciting sequences in which Llewelyn seeks to evade his would-be killer and his equally sinister haircut, the film stumbles in its own pursuit of an philosophically profound ending - instead of one bearing the heightened entertainment that has previously gripped us throughout. The Coens deserve kudos for not being afraid to shun generic conventions throughout their career, but the manner in which Llewelyn's story arc concludes is wholly unsatisfying, as are the musings of Tommy Lee Jones' laconic sheriff that bookend the film.
The performances from the cast are all uniformly superb, with Javier Bardem standing out. Our eyes are drawn to his portrayal of a twisted sickness that he manages to convey in his cold, sunken eyes and callous demeanour. His distinctive 'bob' haircut, making the mullet look like a lesson in follicular finesse, will hopefully never catch on. Josh Brolin deserves credit for his portrayal of the morally ambiguous Llewelyn, with his increasing anxiety forming an excellent juxtaposition with his pursuer's calm. Woody Harrelson helps to underpin the seriousness of the narrative with a his quirky, appealing portrayal of an overly confident bounty hunter.
A mostly absorbing tale of the hunter being subverted into the hunted, No Country For Old Men deserves to be lauded for its gripping, relentless thrills rather than its flawed denouement.