The anatomy of a Best Picture nominee: No Country for Old Men

Justin Horowitz ('09)/ Eastside Staff

oscar.jpgThe film opens up with a dialogue of an aging Texas sheriff unsure of himself. This is followed by a younger man being arrested and strangling a cop with his handcuffs at an empty police station. Bizarre start. 

But this is a bizarre movie that is intriguing but confusing at moments. “No Country for Old Men” takes place in 1980 Texas, near the Mexican border. Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin, Grindhouse), a Vietnam War vet and antelope hunter, stumbles onto a drug deal gone bad with a bunch of dead guys and a satchel containing several thousand dollars. He impulsively takes the money and unknowingly sets off a chain of events no one can escape. 

Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), an honest, aging cop, sets off to find Moss to protect him from an unthinkable fate. Comparable to the Bubonic plague, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, Collateral) is a mysterious and ultimately brilliant sociopath who kills people with a cattlegun without a flinch. For unspecified reasons, Chigurh (pronounced “sugar”) is on the hunt for Moss and the money, starting a fierce chase from Texas to Mexico and back. Moss, who’s really clever despite his stupid move to take the money, thinks he can outrun this sociopath and the police. But both Sheriff Bell and Chigurh are even more clever, using that to their advantages. 

As Carla Jean, the innocent wife of Moss, Kelly Macdonald is heartbreaking in every scene, her character’s intensity building up as the story goes along. Josh Brolin’s portrayal of Moss is unique and complex. Javier Bardem’s performance of Anton Chigurh is truly one for the ages. Chigurh is undoubtedly one of the most villainous characters ever thrown into a movie, brilliant and unflinchingly brutal, and Javier Bardem nails every ounce of this guy’s evil. But the best is for last: this is Tommy Lee Jones’s best performance ever in a film, making me appreciate him as an actor for the first time. The ultimate core of the film, he wants to do good, but his age slows him down. It’s hard to say who ultimately steals the screen, all the actors do in their scenes. 

It’s one of the most intense thrillers in recent years. It doesn’t need intense music to add to its cinematic intensity. You jump out of your seat because of these surprises and are worried that that guy is going to actually shoot you in the head with a cattlegun, unlike the film “Beowulf” which leans on its 3-D effects. This film, in more basic terms, mutilates the Hollywood epic formula to create something fresh, original and really, really intense. 

The ending is the ultimate anti-ending, going for drama that the average film cannot approach. It is confusing at first, making people at the theater, including me, question the film. But meaning varies over time. Who knows: in a couple of years, I could either hate this film or love it. But for right now, I can say without hesitation that I like this movie a lot. 

In a drastic switch from comedy to drama, directors Joel and Ethan Coen, best known for their Oscar-winning masterpiece, the bizarre crime-comedy “Fargo,” create one of the year’s most unique films. They successfully adapt this from the recent acclaimed novel of the same name, with an electrifying script. The cinematography is spot-on, and the chase scenes are among the most thrilling in cinema history. The film is no “Fargo,” but it’s no casual or normal film either. It’s beyond that. Its moral values are not of much meaning. But as a story in general, it’s simply awesome.