America at the movies

“No Country for Old Men” is a poem dedicated to dissecting the brutal state of the current man. The violence in this film, although graphic, is simply a product of a world that condones and sometimes endorses this kind of behavior as a necessary means of settling conflicts. “No Country for Old Men” vividly illustrates this harsh reality not only through the telling of its extraordinarily compelling story, but also by introducing us to one of the most terrifying characters in movie history.

Javier Bardem is Anton Chigurh, in a performance that deserves nothing less than an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as a cold, vicious, and unbelievably evil individual who searches for reasons to slaughter. The story involves Chigurh’s attempts to apprehend and murder Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a man who stumbled across 2 million dollars left unguarded because of a busted drug deal and the following bloodbath.

Chigurh has an instinctual desire for murder that is merely made stronger through his effort to obtain his lost funds from Moss. Killing is the food that prevents him from starving, the drink that quenches his thirst, and through the dark, sinister, and foreboding way Bardem plays the character, the audience comes to the realization that he is death incarnate, waiting to lead his next victim into the afterlife.

All of this attention paid to Bardem’s performance may lead to the impression that the other actors are not up to task or that the characters they portray are not interesting or rich in their personalities, but that is simply not the case. Josh Brolin plays Moss as an introspective, thoughtful, and clever man who understands the possible dangerous consequences that could occur because of his actions. Although he takes the lost money in order to create a better life for his family, Moss is not simply an innocent man caught in an untenable situation, but instead he is a prideful and stubborn individual who goes to extraordinary lengths to protect the very thing to which he has no claim.

Josh Brolin is one of the busiest actors working in films today with this tremendous performance following his turn as a corrupt narcotics officer in American Gangster. Brolin’s subtlety and contemplative face, along with his refusal to overemphasize the emotions of his characters, could remind some viewers of a young Tommy Lee Jones, that great actor who gives a fantastic performance in this film as Sheriff Bell. Jones shows that he is an amazing storyteller by using Bell’s narrations to bookend the film as an effort to describe the horrors that the audience will see, which pale in comparison to what he has experienced, and those that will continue as long as human existence continues to allow senseless violence to occur. Kelly MacDonald, as Carla Jean Moss, wife of Llewelyn, and Woody Harrelson as the bounty hunter Carson Wells simply add their enormous talents to this remarkable cast.

“No Country for Old Me” was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who have also made such high-quality films as “Blood Simple,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “Intolerable Cruelty.” “Fargo” was a masterpiece, and one of the best films of the 1990’s, but “No Country for Old Men” is even better.

The movie, whose cinematographer is Roger Deakins, reminds me of “Days of Heaven,” the 1978 Terrence Malick film whose violence was more psychological, in that the camera is often still, allowing the audience to view the characters’ thoughts and feelings without them having to say a word, which are completely in tune with the vast landscape, interacting with each other to form an unrivaled unity. “No Country for Old Men” is not only an incredible thriller that leaves the audience gasping for air, but is also an operatic meditation on the harshness of human nature.

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