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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

No Country For Old Men

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No Country For Old Men

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The odd title may make you wonder about the contents of the film. Discrimination perhaps? Ageism? Sexism? Then you remember that the Coen Brothers are at the helm and recalculate all such preconceived notions.

It’s 1980 and there’s a serial killer loose in Texas. Having escaped from custody, and slaughtering a deputy using only a pair of handcuffs, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) regains his weapon of choice: a hydraulic cattle gun, resembling a hose on the end of an oxygen tank. In his wake, he leaves a trail of human and canine destruction, not to mention a leather case containing two million dollars (and a hidden transponder).

Tough hunter and sporadically employed Viet Nam vet, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) rolls up on the aftermath of a bloody drug transport ambush and without batting an eye to the carnage, finds and filches the case containing the loot. Hurrying back to his trailer, he tells his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) exactly what’s in the case, but she is barely conscious even when awake, and Moss has an uncharacteristic soft spot for her. Moss is rough, but not totally devoid of feeling. Being jaded to human behavior helps him in his analytical skills.

Meanwhile, Chigurh with his heavily lidded eyes, thick features and incongruent Beatle haircut redefines calculated evil as he plows his way through the innocent and guilty alike with all the efficiency and precision of a mechanized thresher. His low, almost soothing voice can lull the condemned that cross his path into a false sense of security. Wordplay with an unsuspecting gas station attendant (Gene Jones) is chilling with an unexpected outcome. Seems the monstrous Chigurh has his own set of warped principles.

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is a tired old bloodhound who knows that the world has taken his best and rewarded him with ever more sickening behavior, cruelty, outrage and human horror. Content to let younger generations fight the ever bloodier, incomprehensibly cruel battles, Ed Tom tries to school his Barney Fife-like deputy, Wendell (Garrett Dillahunt) to his cynical ways, deploring a lack of manners that started with the decline of Sir and Ma’am. Bell is tracking both Chigurh and Moss.

Carter Wells (Woody Harrelson) is sent by the drug cartel’s corporate headquarters to do a little bounty hunting of his own. Well acquainted with the menacing Chigurh, he nonetheless displays a smug cockiness that only serves to hasten the end of his abbreviated appearance in the film. A sideline character anyway, Wells serves only to enlighten us about the type of creature Chigurh is. Pity he doesn’t follow his own advice.

Moss takes off with the money, sends his wife away to her mother’s house, and the hunt is on. The relentless Chigurh tracks the money through the transponder, and only quick thinking by Moss spares him a mind-blowing death, several different times. Plans are never discussed or revealed, just carried out in action, resulting in some of the most heart-stoppingly choreographed violent gunplay on movie screens this year.

The pursuit goes south of the border, blood following, and lots of it belongs to Moss. The film goes on to involve Moss’ wife and mother-in-law, Agnes (Beth Grant) in small but crucial roles, Sheriff Bell in a philosophical monologue, and the soulless Chigurh in unforeseen circumstances.

The last 25 minutes of film dissolve into disappointing non-resolutions, with few characters at the finish line; some removing themselves voluntarily, others at the wrong end of a coin toss. The blurry ending will leave you either puzzled or Coen-happy for the anomalies.

Javier Bardem is creepy and fascinating as the quiet psychopath with his pure murder lust and expeditious dispatches of any organic material in his way, human or animal. He creates an original menace with bowl-cut comb over and tank of death; a single-track killing machine with soft-spoken rationalizations and God-like coin tosses.

Josh Brolin is impressive as the clever but vulnerable Moss, allowing us to see through his harsh veneer into weaknesses of conscience that lets us know he’s at a disadvantage to Chigurh most of the time.

Woody Harrelson’s icy smoothness is onscreen only briefly, but in his own way he’s as chilling as Chigurh while simply recounting the mad truths of the modern world.

Tommy Lee Jones, fast becoming the voice of weary integrity in films, makes us understand his less than aggressive approach to the incomprehensible viciousness of society. In a world devoid of manners, principles, morals or civility, he’s retreating and we don’t blame him.

Directors/Writers Ethan and Joel Coen (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo) revisit favorite themes: evil incarnate, law enforcement burn-out, betrayal. They had me for most of the journey, losing me only at the very end, but not enough to completely disparage an otherwise ferociously intense piece of cinema.

Based on the novel by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men is said to be faithful to the novel in that dialogue is exact and intent is preserved, to the point of ending in a muddy, abrupt way; some will say it is more like real life that way.

The Coen’s latest venture illustrates, sadly, that with the rise of violent crime and the decline in civility, it’s no country for anyone, anymore.