Over 30 some odd years of filmmaking Joel and Ethan Coen have become the kings of dark comedy. After a stretch of films that did not set the world on fire in the early aughts the duo entered much darker territory with 2007’s “No Country for Old Men.” The centerpiece of this darkness is Anton Chigurh as played by Javier Bardem.
This character is the evil nougat in this dark chocolate bar of a movie. Chigurh is a remorseless killer who murders just about everyone he comes across. He does have a very bizarre set of convictions that he follows without question. He shows mercy on a couple of occasions as he gives people the chance to live on a flip of a coin. Some of the most intense scenes are based around Chigurh challenging potential victims to this game of chance. Chigurh is like a boogeyman that represents all the violence of the modern world; this is even further hammered home by the fact he uses chance to determine who to kill. Much like the real world we never know when disaster will strike so it is rather fitting.
The character that is affected the most by this seemingly random violence is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell as played by Tommy Lee Jones. Sheriff Bell opens the movie by waxing nostalgic about the old lawmen that came before and how they never even wore a gun and would handle the modern world with violence around nearly every corner.
To discuss the plot of “No Country for Old Men” it must be talked about on two distinct levels. On the surface the plot is a cat and mouse like chase between Llewellyn Moss and Chigurh over two million dollars that Moss found at a drug deal gone bad. This plot may be straightforward but it is filled with some of the most intense scenes ever put to celluloid. I feel that the true main plot-line concerns the worn down Sheriff as he is in disbelief about the whole Moss affair. Bell never once interacts with Chigurh or Moss on their trek through the Texas desert and he only witnesses the aftermath of it. This situation causes him to retire from law enforcement as he feels he does not belong in the cruel modern world. Eventually he visits with a man he calls “uncle” and tells him that this world has always been nasty, brutish, and short.
Bell’s progression is ultimately the message of the story. Simply, as we get older we become more disgusted by the world around us. Truthfully the world has always been an awful place and the only thing that changes is a person’s perspective and one’s naivety is worn down by cynicism. Though it is a very dark message it is truly helpful to understand that certain public figures play on fears and tell people how great the old days were when the world on the whole was not that great but we remember them fondly because of a lack of perspective.
I absolutely adore this film and truthfully love most of the Coen’s cannon. If I must speak objectively a negative could be found in a lot of potential story points that are basically dropped or not explained. As an example, we see a shadowy organization hire Chigurh and do other things in the background but never get a clear explanation. This can be frustrating for some viewers that do not like ambiguity. I appreciate not having everything being spelled out for me but do not fault anyone for not liking it. I highly recommend anyone watching at least once but it is not for the feint of heart or those looking for a happy ending.