No Country for Old Men
As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell stares out at the barren Texas landscape, wondering how to catch a crazed killer, we sense that he's losing all hope of bringing any justice to the situation.
But we can feel something deeper disintegrating too. Nostalgic for days when a lawman could make a difference, Bell is losing any hope he has for humankind. He scowls and says, "I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn't."
You too may find yourself hoping that God will save the day while you watch this riveting adaptation of the bestselling novel No Country for Old Men. You may wait and wait, hoping that justice will be done, that grace will come to these characters.
But those familiar with the author of this story will probably guess that God is not among this cast of characters. Foolish, greedy men. Heartless killers. Doomed innocents. Welcome to the World According to Cormac McCarthy.
McCarthy's stories paint dispiriting pictures, but they're bestsellers nevertheless. His celebrated line of novels includes Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and the recent Oprah-selection The Road. (Soon we'll see a big-screen version of The Road, directed by John Hillcoat, who brought us another nightmare called The Proposition last year.)
No Country for Old Men, published in 2005, was bound to become a movie. It has elements of classic crime thrillers, film noir, gunslinger shootouts, and thrilling chase sequences. And it features a villain as distinct and malevolent as Hannibal Lecter.
The story—which gets its title from William Butler Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium"—is a story about a Vietnam vet named Llewellyn Moss who finds $2 million at the scene of a drug deal gone wrong. Like an idiot, Moss takes the money and runs. But he can't hide from the killer that the dealers have sent after him. Anton Chigurh is a ruthless predator who really enjoys his work. He's so bad, in fact, that even his employers are frantic to stop him when they realize the trouble they've set in motion.
There's something very familiar about the madness that ensues in McCarthy's page-turner. It all sounds suspiciously like the work of the Coen Brothers, who brought us violent crime capers like Blood Simple and Fargo. In fact, reading the book, this reviewer could not help but laugh at how conversations between the foolish thief and his oblivious wife resembled the bone-headed banter between Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter in the Coens' comedy Raising Arizona.
So it's almost too good to be true that the Coen Brothers have, in fact, adapted McCarthy's novel and brought it to the screen. It's as if this was part of McCarthy's plan all along.
Sweetening the deal, Tommy Lee Jones has been cast as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. The Coens' greatest strength has always been their flair for comical dialogue and exaggerated dialects. Their language comes as naturally to Jones as riding a horse. He savors and spits his lines as if they were chewing tobacco. He has the gaze of a lifelong farmer who hasn't seen a drop of rain in a decade, and his face is as rugged as the Texas landscape. He captures the book's portrayal of Bell—a man caught in the quicksand of despair—perfectly. Jones has played a lot of troubled trackers in his career, and chased a lot of fugitives. But his work here is second only to his performance in last year's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.