Hollywood voted this Best Picture of the Year (2007) and awarded the Coen brothers Best Director Oscar. Amid a line-up of mostly dark and cold movies (Juno was the one major exception -- I still have yet to see this), No Country Old Men is perhaps even more grim and dark, with nary a redeeming feature.
It opens with narration from Tommy Lee Jones set against several long panning shots of unoccupied Texan landscapes. Each is bleak and barren, godforsaken. Clearly, this is no country for old men. Later, Jones (playing Sheriff Tom Bell) says, "This country's hard on people, you can't stop what's coming, it ain't all waiting on you." This country sucks the life out of people, chews them up and spits them out.
The story is simple: Texan hunter, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), discovers a number of dead bodies, shot-out pickup trucks, a truck-load of heroin and a cool $2M in cash: a drug-deal gone bad. What is he to do? He has an ethical decision to make, and he makes it in a heart-beat. Take the money and run. This reminded me a little of Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan (1998), though it develops in an even darker fashion.
Enter Javier Bardeem as Anton Chigurh, a cold-blooded monster of an amoral killer. He is hired to find the man who took the money. And he always finds his man. One of the first scenes he is in, after we graphically find out he is a killer, is in an old gas station convenience store. "What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?" he asks the owner. This is one of the most intense scenes ever shot in such a store. Not knowing where this is going, the store owner senses something wrong, and we do too. Chigurh stares at him with eyes so cold, so calculating, so callous, often unblinking. Will he kill him or not?
Javier Bardem is a terrific, though not well-known actor (he played a quadriplegic fighting to die with dignity in The Sea Inside, which won Best Foreign Movie Oscar 2005). And he brings an intensity to his role that was totally worthy of his best supporting Oscar. Indeed, his presence dominated the movie. He is amorality personified. Not a raging psychopath, but a cold-blooded killer who claims he is a man of "principle."
As the plot develops, there are some standout scenes, filled with intensity as thick as London's famous fog. Violence abounds, as men get blown away with silenced shotguns and novel weapons. We see real men, those who do their own surgery with no thought of workman's comp. There is no romance, no love, only love for money.
There is no character with any real hope. Even Sheriff Bell, the good guy, has little hope: "I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn't. I don't blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does." Life has burned him out, as it did his daddy and granddaddy before him. He has given his life to his job, to bringing law to the Texan country, and he has lived it apart from God.
No Country is an interesting movie with outstanding acting throughout. But it ends as it starts: by raising questions. The ending itself is surprising, even shocking. Yet, much like There Will be Blood, this movie left me wondering if I liked or even enjoyed the experience. I still can't answer that, though it has caused me to continue to ponder. Perhaps that is a sign of a good movie. (One thing for me was that I had trouble understanding the Texan accents. I knew they were speaking English, yet it still sounded like gibberish to me. That might be how I sound to those around me, with my hybrid English-American accent.)
The Coen brothers have given us a picture of what evil looks like in its almost purest form. Looking in Chigurh's eyes is looking into a dark, deep pool of water; there is no life, no reflection. And Chigurh is motivated by a love of money and a desire to keep his word. "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." So says Paul in 1 Tim. 6:10. John Piper has said that "Money is the currency of human resources." When we bank on money to lead us to happiness, we have turned away from God.
A key line is No Country is spoken by Moss. After he has taken the money and returned to his trailer home, he says to his wife, "There's no going back." He recognized that he has crossed a line and he cannot return. There are some decisions in life which can only be made once, after which the Rubicon has been crossed. Moss looks back, not so much in regret but in recognition that this has changed him and his future forever. When has this happened to us? Are there decisions we look back on with recognition that they changes our lives forever? Coming into a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is one of them.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs.