“No Country for Old Men” addresses an age-old problem: Why is it hard to do the right thing? A character from a forgotten movie once said: “Funny, ain’t it, how it comes around. Right way’s the hardest, wrong way’s the easiest. Rule of nature, like water seeks the path of least resistance. So you get crooked rivers, crooked men.”
Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is out on a deer hunt when he stumbles on a drug deal gone wrong. Seeing that everyone is dead, he looks around for the money but finds only the drugs—and a blood trail. Following the trail, he discovers the money and a near-dead man, who asks for water. Moss isn’t in a giving mood; he takes the money and leaves.
Enter Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who comes looking for the money and winds up hunting for Moss. Chigurh moves like an angel of death motivated by blind hatred. In a scene in a broken-down Texas gas station, Chigurh asks the attendant to call a coin flip. The attendant wants to know what the stakes are; what is he calling for? It is clear to the audience it is for his life.
Chigurh does have an ethic, says fellow bounty hunter Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson); it’s just not one a normal human would understand. Trying to understand is Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who holds jurisdiction over the crime.
“No Country for Old Men” is, in one sense, a chase movie. Moss leaves his wife (Kelly Macdonald) to run with the money, but every seedy place he goes, Chigurh finds him. Moss and Chigurh never share a single close-up, but they are nevertheless joined by their desire for the money.
In another sense, “No Country for Old Men” is a character study par excellence. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen bring Cormac McCarthy’s novel to the screen in their finest film. “No Country” is a movie about the fall of humanity and how doing the wrong thing can bring about the wages of sin.
Chigurh is the most terrifying character in many a year. He embodies what is wrong with the country, according to Sheriff Bell. Moss is the everyman who finds that the Pandora’s box of a satchel of money opens up a demonic spirit that is loosed by him, and follows him like Yama, the Hindu god of death.
Using the palate of ordinary places and scenery, Joel and Ethan Coen present a mythic story of the darkness overtaking the world of light. Sheriff Bell stands in the midst of this madness, wondering why the wrong is so strong—and when the world is going to stop going to hell in a handbag.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic violence and some language.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen (based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy)
Cast: Llewelyn Moss: Josh Brolin; Carla Jean Moss: Kelly Macdonald; Sheriff Bell: Tommy Lee Jones; Anton Chigurh: Javier Bardem; Carson Wells: Woody Harrelson.
The movie’s official Web site is here.