Llewelyn Moss, an antelope hunter, discovers near the Texas border some men riddled with bullets, a shipment of heroin, and two million dollars in cash.
That’s the beginning that raises questions about everything that unfolds in No Country For Old Men. Here we’ll explain exactly what the Coen brothers’ film is all about.
No Country for Old Men was also the reconciliation with one of the most infallible filmmakers, after a couple of inferior films and the discovery by many of its unclassifiable work.
Where the Actors Take Their Places
The Cornerstones of Coen’s Excellence
Adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the film narrates an accumulation of coincidences, unforeseen events, and coincidences in the border area between the United States and Mexico, giving place to the usual absurdity of the Coens, which in this case does not generate humor but chills the blood.
When Llewelyn Moss, played perfectly by Josh Brolin, finds a briefcase full of money and decides to appropriate it, he is unaware of what is coming his way.
Chigurh, who works as a hitman, and is as greedy as Moss, decides to go after Moss to get the money back, but not to give it to those who hired him, but to keep it for himself.
In between the two, Carson Wells, Woody Harrelson‘s character, appears as a kind of mediator who tries to resolve the situation so that the briefcase returns to the hands of those who were initially going to receive it, the CEOs of a corporation.
In the meantime, unable to understand, let alone stop the trail of blood spilling into the streets and motels of the area, Sheriff Bell, embodied by Tommy Lee Jones, can do nothing more than stare in amazement at a world that is no longer the one he knew.
The Meaning Behind the Staging
What Lies Within Between The Lines
Set in 1980, the story reflects on the moral aftermath of the Vietnam War. Drawing a picture of savage capitalism where nothing matters anymore, beyond wanting to step on the neighbor’s head to climb the social pyramid dictated by money.
Details such as the fact that one of the parties involved in the criminal acts is a large company. With the integration of crime into the system that Chigurh decides the fate of his victims with coins, or that Moss, without being an essentially evil character, prefers to take the money rather than give water to a dying man – even if he later regrets it and gets into trouble- expose a crude panorama where violence and money go hand in hand and life is worth less than ever.
Although it speaks of the past, the Coens’ film is so close to the present that it lucidly anticipates one of humanity’s greatest misfortunes immersed in greed and unconsciousness, such as the Great Recession, which began a year later.
Without the need to make an ideological discourse, the authors are tremendously political in their approach to reality, showing modernity consequences.
At least, that is the idea that could be extracted throughout most of the film until a critical scene ends up fitting the pieces of the puzzle and gives a twist to the meaning of the discourse.
A more bewildered than ever, Bell, who has retreated when he sees that the situation is beyond him, visits Ellis (Barry Corbin), his grandfather’s former sheriff, in search of answers to the nonsense he has lived through.
Far from agreeing with him, the older man explains to him that crude and senseless violence is not the result of modernity but has been one of the hallmarks of the nation they share and whose values they defended with their trade.
To enlighten him about this way of interpreting the past and the present, Ellis tells him the story of a group of Indians who killed a sheriff, which is unjustified an act, apparently the result of a pure evil case narrated in the film.
If one considers that one of the Western approaches is to highlight the savagery that the whites exercised on the Indians in the name of progress and civilization and that this is the cultural heritage that Bell defends, perhaps its values are not the most innocent.
There is always a narrative with which to justify actions to make them seem acceptable, even necessary. Maybe that explains why the psychopath Chigurh justifies his actions to exorcise evil and why, ultimately, he and Sheriff Bell are not so different.
If the values shape the system, Bell espouses, and Chigurh is the monster created, who is responsible for what happens?
Our Explanation of the Coen’s Fine Piece
What Really Made the Movie All-Powerful
As you by now have realized, the story is cruel and unscrupulous. No Country for Old Men is a brutal film that, from its introduction, with that fantastic voice-over by our dear Tommy Lee Jones, makes clear the ruthless world we live in, where the only thing that can stand between the hunter and his prey is chance.
His character is tired and longs for the old days when violence was not so present to the point where it was not necessary to carry a gun.
This sheriff, representative of law and order, will pursue and hunt Anton Chigurh, hunter and prey. This complex story revolves around three main characters, marvelously played by the talented Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
Already from the hunting scene, the letter of introduction of one of its protagonists shows an obvious statement of intent. And it is the tireless pursuit of the prey following the trail it leaves behind. A path that will prove to be decisive for the destiny that awaits him.
Llewelyn will also pursue the route that leads him to the money, which triggers all this violence. Throughout the film, multiple traces can be seen, such as the locator, the blood, or the scratches. Even when the prey acts with ingenuity and cunning, he cannot avoid leaving signs of insight, as in the ventilation duct.
But all this chase would be meaningless were it not for the size of the hunter, an incomprehensible Bardem who leaves for the memory one of the most fantastic and most fearsome villains cinema has ever known. Without regard to moral or playful criteria, his gaze and judgment are the perfect reflections of one of the terrifying portraits of the cruel times in which we live.
Although Bardem’s character is clearly menacing in No Country for Men, the main axis lies in Llewelyn Moss’s character. A role that was originally intended for the late Heath Ledger.
His actions, sometimes motivated by greed and sometimes by remorse, trigger each of the film’s twists and turns. He is also the one who provides the viewer with the closest and most identifiable emotional connection.
For his part, Tommy Lee Jones brings with a single glance all that sobriety and serenity, as well as the feeling of resignation that only the most challenging experience can give. His character is the one who provides the interpretation of the events and incites the viewer to reflect.
FAQ (Careful, spoilers!)
Answer: The Mexicans who kill Llewelyn Moss leave in a hurry and aren’t able to find the money. Anton shows up later at night at the crime scene. He locates the money because he knows about Llewelyn’s trick of hiding the money in the duct.
Answer: Llewelyn convinces his wife, Carla Jean, to leave their house, and he goes on the run. Llewelyn is chased by Anton Chigurh, who won’t give up until Llewelyn is dead. At the Hotel Eagle, Llewelyn Moss and Chigurh and about three dozen drug runners get in a huge shootout.
Answer: His signature weapon is a captive bolt stunner, which he uses to kill his victims and also as a tool to shoot out door locks. He also wields a sound-suppressed Remington 11-87 semiautomatic shotgun and pistol (as well as a TEC-9 in the film adaptation).
Answer: Injectable lidocaine, sterile water, povidone-iodine, syringes, an injectable antibiotic and bandage stuff.
Answer: By the end of the film, Ed Tom is retired, his sense of law and order upended by the Moss affair, which means someone else now has to follow in his footsteps and become the next sheriff.
No Country for Old Men is a departure from the usual black humor of the Coens, without disappearing entirely, with an intense thriller more akin to their early works such as Blood Simple or Miller’s Crossing than to the later The Big Lebowski or Intolerable Cruelty.
Violence reigns in this film. To such an extent, it has to be considered another character, judge, and implacable executioner of the protagonists, only stopped by chance represented by a coin or a car accident.
The film is also a visual delight. The extraordinary scenography planned by the Coens, this time with both of them in the director’s chair, is impressive. The sequences in which there are hardly any dialogue lines and the tension is maintained for long minutes are brilliant.
No Country for Old Men dwells on every gesture, every day or not, spectacularly photographed by Roger Deakins, a Coen regular. This gives the film a slow but steady pace, which provides it with a disturbing and unsettling character. Each shot is measured and polished down to the smallest detail, making the mere contemplation of the film a delight.
Despite its relaxing pace, No Country for Old Men also has a good number of chase scenes and shootouts in the purest western style. Sequences, such as they escape through the desert followed by the river or the one that takes place in the motel, are among the most vibrant and impressive in the film.
And if we have to consider violence as another protagonist of this story, the impressive desert landscape on the border between Mexico and the United States is no less so.
An excellent choice to convey the story’s desolate and relentless nature, as also demonstrated by the recent television series Breaking Bad, a production that undoubtedly draws from the Coen brothers’ films.
The elements used in the movie with success are sound and music, practically absent at times, which enhances the feeling of desperation and tension latent in the film.
The film, as usual in the Coens’ films, ends somewhat abruptly. However, this conclusion fits perfectly with the film’s spirit and the message it intends to convey.
No Country for Old Men is pure Coen, despite being based on someone else’s text. It is a magnificent film that is difficult to enjoy because of its cold character in a first viewing and that, like good wine, gains in quality over the years.
It is not only one of the most successful works of this pair of brilliant filmmakers but also one of the decade’s best American films.