No Country For Old Men: A New Western for a New World (Review)

No Country For Old Men is one of those films that gets better every time I watch it. I’ve held a long standing relationship with The Coen Brothers, and whenever I sit down to watch their interpretation of this Cormac McCarthy novel, I find myself wishing they’d take more of their films seriously. No Country For Old Men stands out amongst their canon as their most dramatic film. Little to no humor to be found in this movie, excepting a couple of memorable scenes including socks, tent poles and hotel rooms.

The predominant character in this film is the Texas landscape itself, wide and barren and brown. The film opens with the Sheriff thinking back on the history of Texas law, gazing out over the cold morning and the scuds of brush that mottle the earth. Texas roils beneath the struggle, the sky black as pitch and split by blue lightning. As an avid lover of Cormac McCarthy’s books, I think No Country For Old Men is the very best interpretation of his brutal prose.

Texas is not so much a land shown in this film as it is a land recalled – we see it with its whistling winds and dusty boots and old men left behind by the progress of civilization. “I’m not on the radio,” the Sheriff says sadly, looking out from under the brim of his hat. He’s not on the radio, he’s uncomfortable with a gun and understands horses better than men. He’s numbed by the violence he sees in the world, powerless against it, swept along with it like a leaf on a river.

Part cat and mouse game, part old school Western, part character drama, No Country for Old Men is one of my favorite films. The acting is always spot on – indeed, Javier Bardem’s turn as the enigmatic and terrifying Chigurh is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on celluloid. He is a man out of place in any generation, his boots themselves look sharp enough to be weapons. “I guess I’d say he doesn’t have a sense of humor,” Carson Wells, played by Woody Harrelson, says.

The A-Listers put out great work here, my personal favorite performance coming from Tommy Lee Jones, but the side characters are equally startling. His observations, dry commentary and reassuring – albeit tired – presence in the film. He is the heart of the film. “What is Torbet says about truth and justice?” the Sheriff asks. We dedicate ourselves daily anew. “I’m gonna commence dedicating myself twice daily,” the Sherriff concludes. “Might come to three times before it’s all over.

Llewelyn Moss – played by Josh Brolin – is a hero I can root for. He’s a tough as nails, book dumb but street smart Vietnam Army veteran who makes a living by welding and picking up satchels stuffed with two million dollars. He has a beautiful wife who adores him, keeps his meat under his trailer and tosses the caps to his beers onto the table after he pops them. He can hold his own against a world class assassin as deadly as the Bubonic Plague, and keeps spent rounds from his rifle in his breast pocket. I figure he was probably a sniper in the war.

For a film so tense, little happens. Some people live, most die, and in the end no one ends up where you expect them to. Ed Tom Bell ends up his journey out in a shack with a man named Ellis and Ellis’ many cats, wondering about the nature of God and hearing stories about the death of his uncle. The final scenes of the film are haunting, beautiful, dark and enigmatic, much like the film that preceded them. This is the Coen Brother’s very best film, and it’s a movie I could watch over and over. “Lookin’ for what’s comin,” Llewelyn says at one point, answering a woman who asks him what he keeps looking out the window for. “Yeah, but nobody ever sees that,” the woman replies. Too right she is. It’s a movie full of people who are right, all in pursuit of something wrong. The result is something very, very special.

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“What you’ve got ain’t nothin’ new. This country’s hard on people,” Ellis says. “Can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” Maybe he’s right. He seems like a man who’s right about most things, he and his outlaw cats. He lives on the outskirts of the world in the film, a world with old men and young men, lightning over hills and assassins that travel like coins. It’s a world as familiar to us as yesterday, yet already receding into memory. And that’s the truth in this film, I think. That this West, too, will soon be gone. And so will we.

The Good: The world class acting by all parties involved.

The Better: The Texas landscape used like a character to great effect.

The Best: Seeing how it all comes together into a great – albeit strange – Western.

Overall: 9.8/10

Written By Ries

Ries is a writer, blogger, amateur explorer and full time United States Marine. He graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and is busy putting that degree to work writing elite movie reviews for sites like CineKatz. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, movie watching, talking to himself in the mirror and working on novels that may or may not ever be finished. Of all the things he misses about being a civilian, he misses his beard the most.


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the author

Ries is a writer, blogger, amateur explorer and full time United States Marine. He graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Bachelor's Degree in English and is busy putting that degree to work writing elite movie reviews for sites like CineKatz. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, movie watching, talking to himself in the mirror and working on novels that may or may not ever be finished. Of all the things he misses about being a civilian, he misses his beard the most.

  • NO arguments from me. I absolutely love this picture and personally I think it’s the Coen’s best. I know that is high praise but I feel everything the brothers are doing in No Country works. Brilliant piece of cinema!

  • What a fantastic write up! I’m a big fan of this film so I’m in full agreement with you all the way.

  • i enjoyed the book and made it a point to read it when i learned that the movie was being made. i also enjoyed the film, but i was greatly annoyed that moss went back out to the scene of the shooting with water. i realize it was his nature to try to help, to perhaps be a good person. however, that doesn’t go along with the fact that he took the money. it doesn’t make any sense. however, if one could look past that, which is not greatly difficult, then you’re going to be on the edge of your seat for pretty much the whole film.

  • you heaped a lot of deserved praise on an excellent film. however, what’s it about? what’s the conflict? who does what to whom? who is after whom for what reason? a reader wants to know those things.

  • Outstanding! Glad to meet a fellow fan. 🙂

  • Ries

    Truly, a brilliant piece of cinema. I love everything in this film, and I agree that this is their very best work.

  • Ries

    Something to take into consideration. I for one prefer reviews that reveal as little as the plot as possible, but not everyone is with me on that page. 🙂

  • Ries

    Actually, I was talking to one of my friends about that scene. He was of your opinion – he felt the action was forced and disingenuous to Moss’ character. I’m not sure I agree with you two about that one, but I have heard that thought voiced before. I too loved the book. McCarthy is great.

  • if i can’t enjoy the plot, i can’t enjoy the story because plot = story. so i need to know what i’m in for. but that’s me.

  • every story – well, every good story – has a pivotal moment that sets the conflict in motion. for example, in “rocky”, it was when apollo creed chose rocky balboa from a book of local fighters. in “rear window” it was when jimmy stewart and/or his girlfriend saw raymond burr going out in pouring rain with a suitcase at about 1 in the morning and again at about 2 in the morning. if that pivotal moment is not both believable and sensible, the audience will have trouble buying into the story. “rocky” and “rear window” were easily believable and sensible.
    in “no country for old men,” that moment was when moss went back with water for the men who were shot. is it believable? okay. but does it make sense? not really, because before he went, he told his wife that there was a chance he might not be coming back, or something like that. if he really had that fear, then it is neither sensible nor believable for him to have gone back.

    it is possible for someone to say, “well, he was a really nice guy and he felt bad for the men who were shot and dying.” okay, but if he was the kind of who would have gone back to help those men, then he likely would never have taken the money to begin with.