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Reviewed by David Kerr
You don’t want to get in the way of Anton Chigurh, the menacing stone-cold killer at the centre of Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest masterpiece, No Country for Old Men. It comes as no surprise to me that this violent modern Western has cleaned up at this year’s Academy Awards taking four Oscars including best picture of the year. Javier Bardem fully deserved his best supporting role Oscar for his portrayal of the psychopathic hitman. Anton Chigurh will go down as one of cinema’s most memorable villains.
Chigurh is relentlessly evil. He isn’t the type of villain you might find some empathy with. He isn’t as urbane as Hannibal Lecter. He has no redeeming features or indeed any shred of humanity. He exudes sheer menace every time he appears on the screen. Anyone who gets in his way will be killed without a second thought. Conversation with him is not very fruitful: indeed it can become a matter of life and death.
This film is at times slow-moving as the main characters establish themselves. Early on we establish the implacable evil that is Aton Chigurh. We identify with the ordinary good old boy who comes across a drug deal gone bad while out hunting for antelopes in a remote rural part of 1980s western Texas close to the Mexican border. Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds a lot of dead people, a stash of heroin and over $2million in used banknotes. It looks like a drug deal gone wrong. Moss takes the suitcase full of money and lands himself in a lot of trouble. Chigurh is after him. The drug gangs are after him. So is his long-time local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), who is trying to save him from the fate that seems certain to swallow him up.
What more can be said of this film? The cinematography is magnificent. It’s wonderfully cast. Tommy Lee Jones is superb as the laconic old-time sheriff on the brink of retirement, whose sleepy world is turned upside down by Chigurh’s murderous rampage through his county. Jones gets better and better as he gets older even if he does seem to play a succession of seen-it-all lawmen or ex lawmen in his movies.
No Country for Old Men is a move away from the comedy of the Coen Brothers’ O Brother Where art Thou? and The Big Lebowski and even from their comedy thriller Fargo and back towards the seriousness of their early Blood Simple. This is a modern classic in the making.