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No Country for Old Men

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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Written by andrea bennett

Sometimes I think that conversations overheard in the bathroom of the Galaxy Theatre have more cinematic potential than the movies I end up watching there.

And then a film like No Country for Old Men comes along, and my faith in box office releases is temporarily restored.

No Country, adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel of the same title, has the bleak irony of previous Coen brothers films like Fargo and Blood Simple. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunting when he comes across a different kind of bounty – bricks of heroin, several bodies (including a dog), and, further away, a bag containing stacks of bills.

Sheriff Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is left to sort out what has taken place in the desert. He visits the crime scenes and pieces the conflicts together, but prefers to let the drug-runners and bank employees sort things out for themselves.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem with a bowl cut) picks up where Bell leaves off. Armed with a pocket full of coins, a stun gun designed for livestock, and a slight head tilt, Chigurh is very interested in Moss’s whereabouts.

It’s the details – like the moment where Chigurh peels off his blood-soaked socks and tosses them into a motel bathroom – that have resonated and stayed with me. The reactions of incidental characters in 80s West Texas reflected the morbid captivation I felt as Chigurh flipped his coins.

Unlike most crappy contemporary filmmakers, the Coens have perfected the art of holding back, preferring instead to let viewers suss out what’s taken place. They also eschew including much music in the soundtrack, relying instead on the desert wind and sounds of human movement to build tension.

The result is a well-crafted, incredibly unsettling film.

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