No Country for Old Men is a different sort of Coen
Brothers’ movie. Conspicuously absent are the quirky
conversations, offbeat personas, and the, you know, funny looking
actors. In their place are nail-biting tension, graphic violence,
and social commentary. No Country for Old Men is firmly
grounded in a place and time much more down to earth than their
other movies and yet it may seem equally as otherworldly as their
other works if you’re not from Texas. More specifically south
Texas, near the Mexico border, 1980.
Steve Buscemi’s desperate need to fill the
air with “complete fucking silence” or the inane ramblings
of The Dude and his bowling team have been replaced with terse questions
and laconic replies. The few lengthy conversations are so noteworthy
that one party will even go so far as to point out the other’s
loquaciousness. The natives are friendly, impeccably polite, and
amongst each other extremely honest.
The movie gets started when LLewelyn Moss (Brolin)
discovers a bunch of bodies and two million in drug money while
hunting out in the bleak Texas landscape. Of course the mob wants
their money back and sends their top man, Chigurh (Bardem),
a psychotic hit man who is as ruthless and unstoppable as the Terminator,
but for his humanity he is an even more terrifying villain. The
only person who can try to contain the violence is Sheriff Bell
(Jones) a good old boy who remembers a time when
sheriffs didn’t even need to carry guns on the job.
The movie does an excellent job with building suspense with a minimal
use of background music. Llewelyn’s peril as he is hunted
by Chigurh is palpable as the hit man’s bullets whiz by his
head. Some of the movies more tense moments are the product of people
being friendly and polite to Chigurh, thinking him to be just one
other passer-by, while the audience can only hold its breath knowing
him to be the grim reaper.
Today I often wonder about the militarization of law enforcement
and the necessity of so many of what seem to be redundant law enforcement
agencies, but after having watched No Country for Old Men
it is easy to see how unprepared this country was for the wave of
drug violence engulfing it and how to the old guard it could seem
as if the whole world has turned upside down. With heaps of bodies
and an unstoppable cartel determined to move its product no matter
who suffers, Sheriff Bell and his peers are as powerless to stop
the cartels as they are powerless to stop young folks from dyeing
their hair green and sticking bones through their noses.
In many ways No Country for Old Men is a western in reverse.
Instead of the rugged country being tamed by civilization and do-good
lawmen, the law can only helplessly observe while the fabric of
civilization is undone by drug dealing bandits. It is a time of
transition, and if those changes were taking place in 1980 then
where are we now?