No Country for Old Men is a critically acclaimed western film by the Coen brothers. It took home 4 Oscars, a Golden Globe, and hundreds of other awards. Ten years later, does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
This movie is difficult to pin down. As the screen went dark and the credits began to roll I found myself dissatisfied with the state of affairs. This isn’t a “feel good” movie by any means. In fact, one of the top reviews on IMDB is titled “Tangible Fear as Art.” While the movie didn’t really appeal to me, I can certainly see how it would appeal to fans of westerns and suspense.
In terms of plot, No Country for Old Men plods along slowly, speeding up only for the occasional gunfight. The characters even talk slowly and methodically, providing contrast between the Texan drawl and the sharp crack of gunfire. The pacing is perfect for the story, as the film tugs at your curiosity and prolongs suspense.
The story is intellectually stimulating, following a man who stumbles across a suitcase full of money only to find himself pursued by a psychotic killer intent on getting the cash. It can’t help but inspire the imagination: what would I do in this situation?
As the film jumps between the hero, played by Josh Brolin, the killer, played by Javier Bardem, and the sheriff, played by Tommy Lee Jones, the audience is presented with three strong personalities to explore. Brolin’s character is a fighter and a survivor. He’s not always making great decisions, but he’s strong, intelligent, and never gives up. In that sense he’s the type of person an audience member might wish to be like.
Bardem, on the other hand, is not relatable. There’s something off about him. He has a somewhat vacant expression throughout most of the film and when he talks we’re given the sense that he thinks differently that we do. We don’t follow his train of thought, his logical jumps don’t coincide with our jumps, and we’re left feeling uneasy.
Tommy Lee Jones’ character is the good natured, intelligent, methodical sheriff that we admire with some sort of nostalgia. He’s close to retirement, by the end of the film he is retired, he’s clearly past his prime. He’s not running around arresting people or getting into gunfights. He’s tired and worn out. As an audience we’re really rooting for him to pull everything together and make the connections, but in a way he already has one foot out the door and it feels like he’s already given up.
None of the characters end up with what they want. It’s a tragic film, but I think that’s probably part of the appeal.
Music, or lack thereof, plays an important role in the film. Many of the scenes are silent, save for the crunch of gravel and glass underfoot. The quiet, ambient noises help to heighten the suspense.
Cinematically, the film is beautiful. Many of the scenes contain little or no dialogue, yet emotions and intent of the characters are conveyed through great acting and wonderful camera work.
Critics of the film complain about the plot holes and disjointed feeling that arises throughout the film. It’s interesting what elements are shown and which elements are implied. Some characters are killed off screen, though the majority are killed on camera. Why this one, not that one? It’s the question I had at several points along the way.
While the film was entertaining, it failed to pull me in. No Country for Old Men is certainly worthy of many of the awards it received, but for the general public, I think it has been over hyped. While the overall reviews for the film are 10/10 positive, this wasn’t a film for me, and I would venture to say, not a film for everyone.