The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, directors and producers of Fargo and The Big Lebowski, have come out with a new film, No Country for Old Men. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin, with a brief cameo by Woody Harrelson, this is the brothers’ stab at action movies. The jury’s still out as to whether they succeed.
The story, set in 1980, follows Llewelyn Moss (Brolin), a Texas native who stumbles upon the deaths of Mexican drug runners in the desert. At the scene, he finds and pockets two million dollars in cash, which sets off a chain of events that puts him in mortal danger. The “true” heir to the drug fortune, Anton Chigerh (Bardem), follows Llewelyn around Texas. Chigerh is a homicidal maniac with a Davy Jones haircut and a machine used for slaughtering cows, called a captive bolt pistol, which he uses to break into houses and kill people.
Bardem, who is of Spanish descent, plays the only character in the film without a Texas drawl, instead using more refined speech with a hint of a Spanish accent. He is the true star of this film, a captivating actor who somehow manages to form a connection with the audience despite the fact that he is seemingly emotionless and definitely a killer. (His murder count runs too high to state exactly.) However, despite the number of people he slaughters with his high-pressure shotgun and captive bolt pistol, he is compelling—both compelling and terrifying.
The Coen brothers follow the action formula very closely, with plenty of violence and corpses outnumbering survivors. The beginning of the film shows the true psychopathic nature of Chigerh when he murders his first victim, an unsuspecting and naive cop, with his handcuffs. As the film continues, there is a sea of blood, open wounds, and bloody clothes. Chigerh uses his captive bolt pistol to murder a man on the highway in order to procure his car, mere minutes after the death of the policeman. The beginning of the film sets of the tone for the first half of the movie, which is that of gore and blood.
The second half of the film takes something of a respite from the violence. This gives the audience a chance to recuperate. However, despite the portent of relief, there is bloodshed up until the final moments of the film.
Though this movie is violent, there is the typical Coen humor, primarily from the ever-talented Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. The slow-talking, world-weary Sheriff is both disgusted with and expectant of the violence that ensues, but much to his dismay, is unable to stop it. There are moments in the film of stunned silence, but also many scenes of laughter and a jocular sense of delivery by the actors.
Yet the film falls flat in explanation. It seems as though the Coen brothers were so intent on creating an action movie that they forgot to explain the events of the second half of the film. They introduce characters whose place in the series of events only half makes sense, and they kill off characters without an explanation of how they were killed. Toward the end of the film, there is an unexplained introduction of powerful Mexican characters. Since Chigerh seems to work by himself, why would new unexplained Mexicans enter into the story as if to help him?
This film is recommended for those who have iron stomachs and want an action movie with a plot. Though not everything is explained, the story still presents a series of superbly acted characters about whom the audience can have a strong opinion. Just remember: iron stomach.