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No Country for Old Men
NonFreeImageRemoved.svg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Produced by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Scott Rudin
Screenplay by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Based on No Country for Old Men
by Cormac McCarthy
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Javier Bardem
Josh Brolin
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Roderick Jaynes
Distributed by Miramax Films
Paramount Vantage
Release date
  • November 9, 2007 (2007-11-09)
Running time
122 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $171,627,166

No Country for Old Men is a 2007 American crime thriller written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and is based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name.[1][2] The film stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, and tells the story of an ordinary man to whom chance delivers a fortune that is not his, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama, as three men crisscross each other's paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas.[3] Themes of fate, conscience and circumstance re-emerge that the Coen brothers have previously explored in Blood Simple and Fargo.

Among its four Oscars at the 2008 Academy Awards were awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, allowing the Coen brothers to join the five previous directors honored three times for the same film.[4][5] In addition, the film won three British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) including Best Director,[6] and two Golden Globes.[7] The American Film Institute listed it as an AFI Movie of the Year,[8] and the National Board of Review selected the film as the best of 2007.[9]

Production was scheduled for May 2006, where the film was shot primarily in New Mexico and Las Vegas, and other scenes were filmed around Marfa and Sanderson in West Texas.[10] The film premiered in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival on May 19,[11] and commercially opened in limited release in 28 theaters in the United States on November 9, 2007, grossing $1,226,333 over the opening weekend, and opened in the United Kingdom (limited release) and Ireland on January 18, 2008.[12] It became the biggest box-office hit for the Coen brothers to date,[13] grossing more than 170 million dollars worldwide,[14] until it was surpassed by True Grit in 2010.[15]

No Country for Old Men appeared on more critics' top ten lists (354) than any other film of 2007, and was the most selected as the best film of the year.[16] It is regarded by many critics as the Coen brothers' finest film.[17][18][19][20] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "as good a film as the Coen brothers...have ever made,"[17] The Guardian journalist John Patterson said "that the Coens' technical abilities, and their feel for a landscape-based Western classicism reminiscent of Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah, are matched by few living directors,"[21] and Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone said that it is "a new career peak for the Coen brothers" and is "as entertaining as hell."[22]

Plot[edit]

West Texas in June 1980 is desolate, wide open country, and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) laments the increasing violence in a region where he, like his father and grandfather before him, has risen to the office of sheriff.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), hunting pronghorn, comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone awry: several dead men and dogs, a wounded Mexican begging for water, and two million dollars in a satchel that he takes to his trailer home. Late that night, he returns with water for the dying man, but is chased away by two men in a truck and loses his vehicle. When he gets back home he grabs the cash, sends his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) to her mother's, and makes his way to a motel in the next county[23] where he hides the satchel in the air vent of his room.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a hitman who has been hired to recover the money. He has already strangled a sheriff's deputy to escape custody and stolen a car by using a captive bolt pistol to kill the driver. Now he carries a receiver that traces the money via a tracking device concealed inside the satchel. Bursting into Moss' hideout at night, Chigurh surprises a group of Mexicans set to ambush Moss, and murders them all. Moss, who has rented the connecting room on the other side, is one step ahead. By the time Chigurh removes the vent cover with a dime, Moss is already back on the road with the cash.

In a border town hotel, Moss finally finds the electronic bug, but not before Chigurh is upon him. A firefight between them spills onto the streets, leaving both men wounded. Moss flees across the border, collapsing from his injuries before he is taken to a Mexican hospital. There, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), another hired operative, offers protection in return for the money.

After Chigurh cleans and stitches his own wounds with stolen supplies, he gets the drop on Wells back at his hotel and kills him just as Moss calls the room. Picking up the call and casually raising his feet to avoid the spreading blood, Chigurh promises Moss that Carla Jean will go untouched if he gives up the money. Moss remains defiant.

Moss arranges to rendezvous with his wife at a motel in El Paso to give her the money and send her out of harm's way. She reluctantly accepts Bell's offer to save her husband, but he arrives only in time to see a pickup carrying several men speeding away from the motel and Moss lying dead in his room. That night, Bell returns to the crime scene and finds the lock blown out in his suspect's familiar style. Chigurh hides behind the door of a motel room, observing the shifting light through an empty lock hole. His gun drawn, Bell enters Moss' room and notices that the vent cover has been removed with a dime and the vent is empty.

Bell visits his Uncle Ellis (Barry Corbin), an ex-lawman. Bell plans to retire because he feels "overmatched," but Ellis points out that the region has always been violent. For Ellis, thinking it is "all waiting on you, that's vanity."

Carla Jean returns from her mother's funeral to find Chigurh waiting in the bedroom. When she tells him she does not have the money, he recalls the pledge he made to her husband that could have spared her. The best he will offer is a coin toss for her life, but she says that the choice is his. Chigurh leaves the house alone and carefully checks the soles of his boots. As he drives away, he is injured in a car accident and abandons the damaged vehicle.

Now retired, Bell shares two dreams with his wife (Tess Harper), both involving his deceased father. In the first dream he lost "some money" that his father had given him; in the second, he and his father were riding horses through a snowy mountain pass. His father, who was carrying fire in a horn, quietly passed by with his head down, "going on ahead, and fixin' to make a fire" in the surrounding dark and cold. Bell knew that when he got there his father would be waiting.

Cast[edit]

  • Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a laconic, soon-to-retire county sheriff on the trail of Chigurh and Moss.
  • Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, a hitman hired to recover the missing money. The character was a recurrence of the "Unstoppable Evil" archetype found in the Coen brothers' work, though the brothers wanted to avoid one-dimensionality, particularly a comparison to The Terminator.[24] The Coen brothers sought to cast someone "who could have come from Mars" to avoid a sense of identification. The brothers introduced the character in the beginning of the film in a manner similar to the opening of the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth.[25] Chigurh has been perceived as a "modern equivalent of Death from Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal."[26] Chigurh's distinctive look was derived from a 1979 photo from a book supplied by Jones which featured photos of brothel patrons on the Texas-Mexico border.[27] After seeing himself with the new hairdo for the first time, Bardem reportedly said, "I'm not going to be laid for three months." Bardem signed on because he had been a Coens' fan ever since he saw their debut, Blood Simple.[28]
  • Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, a welder and Vietnam veteran who flees with two million dollars in drug money that he finds in an open field in Texas.
  • Kelly Macdonald as Carla Jean Moss, Llewelyn Moss' wife. Despite having severe misgivings about her husband's plans to keep the money, she still supports him. Macdonald said that what attracted her to the character of Moss was that she "wasn't obvious. She wasn't your typical trailer trash kind of character. At first you think she's one thing and by the end of the film, you realize that she's not quite as naïve as she might come across."[30]
  • Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, a cocky bounty hunter and acquaintance of Chigurh hired to recover the drug money.
  • Garret Dillahunt as Deputy Wendell, Bell's inexperienced deputy sheriff assisting in the investigation and providing comic relief.
  • Tess Harper as Loretta Bell, the sheriff's wife, who provides reassurance in his darker moods.
  • Barry Corbin as Ellis, a retired deputy shot in the line of duty and now wheelchair-bound. He acts as a straight-talking sounding board to his nephew, Bell.
  • Beth Grant as Agnes, Carla Jean's mother and the mother-in-law of Moss. She provides comic relief despite the fact that she is dying from "the cancer."
  • Stephen Root as the man who hires Chigurh, Wells (only mentioned in passing as a possible party to the original drug deal), and the Mexicans.
  • Gene Jones as Thomas Thayer, an elderly rural gas station clerk with good fortune, as his call on Anton's coin flip saves his life.
  • Brandon Smith as a stern INS official wearing sunglasses as he guards the U.S.-Mexican border. He lets Moss cross once he learns he was in the Vietnam War.

Production[edit]

Producer Scott Rudin bought the book rights to McCarthy's novel and suggested a film adaptation to the Coen brothers, who at the time were attempting to adapt the novel To the White Sea by James Dickey.[25] By August 2005, the Coen brothers agreed to write and direct a film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, having identified with how the novel provided a sense of place and also how it played with genre conventions. Joel Coen said of the unconventional approach, "That was familiar, congenial to us; we're naturally attracted to subverting genre. We liked the fact that the bad guys never really meet the good guys, that McCarthy did not follow through on formula expectations."[25][31] The Coens also identified the appeal of the novel to be its "pitiless quality." Ethan Coen explained, "That's a hallmark of the book, which has an unforgiving landscape and characters but is also about finding some kind of beauty without being sentimental." The adaptation was to be the second of McCarthy's work, following the 2000 film All the Pretty Horses.[32]

Writing[edit]

"One of us types into the computer while the other holds the spine of the book open flat."

–Co-director Ethan Coen on writing the script from the Cormac McCarthy novel.[21]

The Coens' script was unusually faithful to their source material. In fact, Ethan said, "One of us types into the computer while the other holds the spine of the book open flat."[21] Still, they pruned where necessary.[25] A teenage runaway who appeared late in the book and some backstory related to Bell were both removed.[24] Also changed from the original was Carla Jean Moss's reaction when finally faced with the imposing figure of Chigurh. As Kelly MacDonald explained to CanMag: "The ending of the book is different. She reacts more in the way I react. She kind of falls apart. In the film she's been through so much and she can't lose any more. It's just she's got this quiet acceptance of it."[30]

Richard Corliss of Time magazine stated that "the Coen brothers have adapted literary works before. Miller's Crossing was a sly, unacknowledged blend of two Dashiell Hammett's tales, Red Harvest and The Glass Key; and O Brother Where Art Thou? transferred The Odyssey [of Homer] to the American south in the 1930s. But No Country for Old Men is their first film taken, pretty straightforwardly, from a [contemporary] prime American novel."[33] (Their 2004 film The Ladykillers is based on a 1955 British black comedy film of the same name).[34]

The writing is also notable for its minimal use of dialogue. Josh Brolin discussed his initial nervousness with having so little dialogue to work with:

I mean it was a fear, for sure, because dialogue that's what you kind of rest upon as an actor, you know? [...] Drama and all the stuff is all dialogue motivated. You have to figure out different ways to convey ideas. You don't want to over-compensate because the fear is that you're going to be boring if nothing's going on. You start doing this and this and taking off your hat and putting it on again or some bullshit that doesn't need to be there. So yeah, I was a little afraid of that in the beginning.[35]

Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone praised the novel adaptation. "Not since Robert Altman merged with the short stories of Raymond Carver in Short Cuts have filmmakers and author fused with such devastating impact as the Coens and McCarthy. Good and evil are tackled with a rigorous fix on the complexity involved."[22]

Director Joel Coen justified his interest in the McCarthy novel. "There's something about it –there were echoes of it in No Country for Old Men that were quite interesting for us", he said, "because it was the idea of the physical work that somebody does that helps reveal who they are and is part of the fiber of the story. Because you only saw this person in this movie making things and doing things in order to survive and to make this journey, and the fact that you were thrown back on that, as opposed to any dialogue, was interesting to us."[36]

Co-director Joel Coen stated that this is the brothers' "first adaptation". He further explained why they chose the Cormac McCarthy's novel: "Why not start with Cormac? Why not start with the best?" Coen further described this McCarthy novel in particular as "unlike his other novels ... it is much pulpier." Coen stated that they haven't changed much in the adaptation. "It really is just compression," he said. "We didn't create new situations." He further assured that the he and his brother Ethan had never met McCarthy when they were writing the script, but first met him during the shooting of the film. He believed that McCarthy liked the film, while his brother Ethan said, "he didn't yell at us. We were actually sitting in a movie theater/screening room with him when he saw it ... and I heard him chuckle a couple of times, so I took that as a seal of approval, I don't know, maybe presumptuously." [37]

Title[edit]

The title is taken from the opening line of 20th-century Irish poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium"[38]:

"THAT is no country for old men. The young

In one another's arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect"

Richard Gilmore relates the Yeats poem to the Coens' film. "The lament that can be heard in these lines," he says, "is for no longer belonging to the country of the young. It is also a lament for the way the young neglect the wisdom of the past and, presumably, of the old ... Yeats chooses Byzantium because it was a great early Christian city in which Plato's Academy, for a time, was still allowed to function. The historical period of Byzantium was a time of culmination that was also a time of transition. In his book of mystical writings, A Vision, Yeats says, 'I think that in early Byzantium, maybe never before or since in recorded history, religious, aesthetic, and practical life were one, that architect and artificers...spoke to the multitude and the few alike.' The idea of a balance and a coherence in a society's religious, aesthetic, and practical life is Yeats's ideal ...It is an ideal rarely realized in this world and maybe not even in ancient Byzantium. Certainly within the context of the movie No Country for Old Men, one has the sense, especially from Bell as the chronicler of the times, that things are out of alignment, that balance and harmony are gone from the land and from the people."[39]

Differences from the novel[edit]

Tasha Robinson lists the differences between the Coen brothers award-winning script and the Cormac McCarthy novel:

  • "The book is less removed about the end of the interaction between Chigurh (the Javier Bardem character) and Moss' wife ...; it spells out the fact that he shoots her. She also doesn't refuse to call heads or tails on his coin: She calls it incorrectly, though they then have pretty much the same conversation they have in the film, about how he, not the coin, is deciding her fate.
  • The book is also more specific about how Chigurh ended up in the car of the deputy he kills at the beginning of the film; he murdered a man for a snotty remark, then permitted himself to be captured 'to see if I could extricate myself by an act of will.' Explaining some aspects of his life to Carson Wells (the Woody Harrelson character) before killing him, Chigurh describes this as a vain, foolish act.
  • The first hotel confrontation between Moss and Chigurh plays out very differently; rather than punching out the lock and wounding Moss, Chigurh apparently steals a key from the murdered clerk and quietly enters Moss' room, and Moss hides and takes him captive at gunpoint, so they have a chance to see and know each other. Then Moss runs and the chase/shootout begins.
  • There's a scene where Chigurh delivers the recovered cash to some higher-up whom he's never met before, but whom he's clearly decided is now his employer; he presents the money and they come to terms after a brief 'How did you find me?' 'What difference does it make?' conversation.
  • There's also a protracted scene toward the end where Sheriff Bell interviews one of the kids who witnessed Chigurh's car accident, and apparently stole Chigurh's gun out of his car afterward.
  • The chase scene with the dog that follows Moss downstream until he manages to dry out his gun and shoot it is an invention of the film, and doesn't appear in the book in any way.
  • Where the film last sees Moss alive heading off to have a beer with a lady who calls to him from poolside at her hotel, the book has a lengthy interlude between him and a young female hitchhiker, whom he gives money and advice ... He actually dies because he puts down his gun when the Mexicans following him take her hostage.”
    Robinson adds that "the list of plot changes above may seem long, but they represent a small percentage of the actual story, which mostly plays out in the film exactly as McCarthy puts it on the page, scene for scene, conversation for conversation. A lot of the speeches and wittiest exchanges are verbatim from the book."[40]

Other listed differences include:

  • "[The film] omits all references to Bell's experience in World War II, which is a key to understanding his character in the novel. In the novel, in the scene with Uncle Ellis, Bell tells a long story about how he received a medal of honor in the war, which he feels he did not deserve because he ran away and left his men. Bell is haunted by his guilt about this incident, which the film completely omits.
  • The opening [voice-over narration] is composed of lines taken from 3 different passages of first-person narration: (90; 63–4; 3–4). As one can see from the page numbers, the filmmakers took passages out of their contexts and reworked them into one coherent statement.
  • [In the] shoot out between Chigurh and Moss after Moss escapes from Hotel Eagle: This scene intensifies the dramatic action in which Moss barely escapes in the truck and then waits for Chigurh and wounds him, momentarily turns the tables as Moss hunts Chigurh who escapes. In the novel, Chigurh gets involved with battling the Mexicans and loses track of Moss."[41]

Craig Kennedy adds that "one key difference is that of focus. The novel belongs to Sheriff Bell. Each chapter begins with Bell's narration, which dovetails and counterpoints the action of the main story. Though the film opens with Bell speaking, much of what he says in the book is condensed and it turns up in other forms. Also, Bell has an entire backstory in the book that doesn't make it into the film. The result is a movie that is more simplified thematically, but one that gives more of the characters an opportunity to shine."[42]

Jay Ellis elaborates on Chigurh's encounter with the man behind the counter at the gas station. "Where McCarthy gives us Chigurh's question as, 'What's the most you ever saw lost on a coin toss? (55)', he says, 'the film elides the word 'saw', but the Coens of course tend to the visual. Where the book describes the setting as 'almost dark' (52), the film clearly depicts high noon: no shadows are notable in the establishing shot of the gas station, and the sunlight is bright even if behind cloud cover. The light through two windows and a door comes evenly through three walls in the interior shots. But this difference increases our sense of the man's desperation later, when he claims he needs to close and he closes at 'near dark'; it is darker, as it were, in the cave of this man's ignorance than it is outside in the bright light of truth."[43]

Casting[edit]

Javier Bardem told the Coens that he would happily take the part even though he hated violence, had never fired a gun, was uncomfortable speaking English and doesn't drive a car.[44]

Actors Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones entered talks to join the cast in February 2006.[45] Jones was the first actor to be officially cast in No Country for Old Men. The Coen brothers felt that Jones fit the role since they wanted to avoid sentimentality and not have the audiences perceive the character to be a Charley Weaver type.[25] Praising Jones' credentials, the Coen brothers said, "He's from San Saba, Texas, not far from where the movie takes place. He's the real thing regarding that region." Joel Coen further outlined the directors' reasons for hiring Tommy Lee Jones in interview with Emanuel Levy:

There are just very, very few people who can carry a role like this one [...] Sheriff Bell is the soul of the movie and also, in a fundamental way, the region is so much a part of Sheriff Bell, so we needed someone who understood it [...] It's a role that also requires a kind of subtlety that only a really, really great actor can bring to it. Again, the list of these is pretty short, so when you put those two criteria together, you come up with Tommy Lee Jones. Being a Texan, the region is a part of his core.[46]

Javier Bardem stated that the Coen brothers are his favorite directors of all time. "The complexity of Chigurh was a kind of dream," he added. "... I saw him as a man with a mission that was beyond his control. Someone chose his fate for him. I thought of him as a man who never had sex. He doesn't like human fluids, even his own ... It was important to think about how he relates to other people, even sexually." Bardem told the Coens that he would happily take the part even though he hated violence, had never fired a gun, was uncomfortable speaking English and doesn't drive a car. "They weren't concerned," he said. "When you act, you learn things. Before 'No Country,' I had never held a gun and now I can drive a car. When I was doing Chigurh, my English became so good that I was dreaming in English."[44]

Josh Brolin joined the cast shortly after in April, prior to the start of production.[47] Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed Brolin's first audition for the movie on a Panavision Genesis camera during lunch while filming Grindhouse. However, Brolin was initially overlooked for the role of Llewelyn. Other actors had been offered the role, including Heath Ledger, who turned down the offer to take time off from acting.[48] According to Brolin, the Coens' only response to the audition tape was, "Who lit it?"[49] Brolin said it was only due to his agents' persistence that he eventually got a callback:

What I found out now was their last casting session, they were focused on a couple of actors. They called me the night before and they said, basically, no harm, no foul. 'Leave us alone, have him come down.' I studied a few scenes and I came down and I met them, and there was really no reaction in the meeting. I walked out thinking, 'It was great meeting the Coens. I'm a big fan. That's cool.' And by the time I got home I found out they wanted me to do it.[35]

Brolin broke his collarbone in a motorcycle accident a few days before filming was due to begin, but he and his doctor lied about the extent of his injury to the Coens and they let him continue in the role.[50]

The Coens later wrote a short tongue-in-cheek piece for Esquire magazine called "Josh Brolin, the Casting Mistake of the Year", in which they claimed to have believed that they had cast James Brolin in the role of the aging Vietnam vet, and upon realizing their mistake were forced to reset the movie in the year 1980.[51]

Kelly Macdonald's agent originally wasn't sure she was right for the part of Moss' wife, and Macdonald is reported as having to "fight for the role".[52] She was ultimately nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Macdonald explained how she mastered the Texas accent even though she is from Glasgow, Scotland. "I've got a very good friend who's a dialect coach," she said, "and when I first went in to meet [casting director] Ellen Chenoweth I was in New York, and I spoke to my good friend for a half hour or so in the hotel bathroom, and I went in to see her and it kind of just clicked, and I don't know why. I could just hear a voice when I read it." [53]

Filming[edit]

The project was a co-production between Miramax Films and Paramount's classics-based division in a 50/50 partnership, and production was scheduled for May 2006 in New Mexico and Texas. With a total budget of $25 million, production was slated to take place in the cities of Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as in the state of Texas. Filmmakers estimated spending between $12 and $17 million of the budget in New Mexico.[54] A movie set of a border checkpoint was built at the intersection of Interstate 25 and New Mexico State Highway 65.[55] The bulk of the film was shot in New Mexico, and primarily there in Las Vegas, which doubled as the border towns of Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Texas. The U.S.-Mexico border crossing bridge was actually a freeway overpass in Las Vegas. Other scenes were filmed around Marfa and Sanderson in West Texas, and the scene in the town square was filmed in Piedras Negras, Coahuila in Mexico.[10]

The Coens expressed how the scene where a dog swims after actor Josh Brolin was filmed. "It was basically trained to kill people," they said. "The trainer had this little neon-orange toy that he would show to the dog, and the dog would start slavering and get unbelievably agitated and would do anything to get the toy. So the dog would be restrained, and Josh, before each take, would show the dog that he had the toy, he'd put it in his pants and jump into the river ... without having any idea of how fast this dog could swim. So the dog was then coming after him ... so Josh came out of the river sopping wet and pulled the thing out of his crotch and –he was talking to himself– he said, 'What do you do? ... Oh, I'm an actor.'"[36]

Joel Coen also elaborated on the difficulties of shooting in the desert country. "One challenge," he said, "was that we had a lot of extras who had to lie around in baking sun covered in blood on the desert floor for hours at a time. I found out from the makeup department that there was this thing like the Pentagon charging $3,000 for a hammer: The makeup department was buying this special blood that was made in England, makeup blood that was like $800 a gallon. I wanted to know why they were doing that rather than mixing food coloring with Karo syrup as they usually do and I was told that this blood had no sugar in it, as the mixtures usually do. It was rather important, given the fact that they would be lying there for hours and didn't want to be attacked by all kinds of creepy bugs and animals that might be attracted to the sugar."[56]

Cinematographer Roger Deakins, collaborating with the Coen brothers for the ninth time, spoke of his approach to the film's look: "The big challenge on No Country for Old Men is making it very realistic, to match the story. It's early days, but I'm imagining doing it very edgy and dark, and quite sparse. Not so stylized."[57] In an interview with Lynnea Chapman King, Deakins commented on the violent scenes he filmed for the Coens. "There is an awkward dilemma attached to the work that needs to be considered", he says. "No Country certainly contains scenes of some very realistically staged fictional violence, but I wouldn't say it was in any way gratuitous or voyeuristic. Without this violent depiction of evil there would not be the emotional "pay off" at the end of the film when Ed Tom bemoans the fact that God has not entered his life."[58]

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, cinematographer Deakins described how "everything's worked out" when working with the Coens. "Everything's storyboarded before we start shooting," Deakins said. "In No Country, there's maybe only a dozen shots [that were storyboarded and photographed] that are not in the final film. It's that order of planning. And we only shot 250,000 feet, whereas most productions of that size might shoot 700,000 or a million feet of film. It's quite precise, the way they approach everything."

Deakins further elaborated that in the scene where Chigurh makes a gas-station clerk toss a coin the camera is physically moving forward so slowly that the audience isn't even aware of the move. "We never use a zoom," he said. "I don't even carry a zoom lens with me, unless it's for something very specific ... When the camera itself moves forward, the audience is moving, too. You're actually getting closer to somebody or something. It has, to me, a much more powerful effect, because it's a three-dimensional move. A zoom is more like a focusing of attention. You're just standing in the same place and concentrating on one smaller element in the frame. Emotionally, that's a very different effect."[59]

Mick Hubris-Cherrier stresses that "latent violence is [the undercurrent in a scene where] the psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who has already left behind a collection of corpses in his search for pilfered money, has arrived at the hideout of Carla Jean, the wife of the man who took the money. We already know that Chigurh can kill easily, or he can just as easily let people go. But we don't know which Chigurh is in the room with Carla Jean as she tries to reason with him to spare her life. The Coens (and [Director of Photography] D.P. Roger Deakins) chose to place Chigurh in the shadows in a corner of the room. The decision to expose for the bright areas of the room (... his hands in the sun) and allow Chigurh's face to fall several stops into underexposure heightens the tension of the scene because it keeps his features difficult to make out and his intensions inscrutable."[60]

Directing[edit]

The Coen brothers acknowledge the influence of Sam Peckinpah's work on their own. In an interview for The Guardian, they said, "Hard men in the south-west shooting each other – that's definitely Sam Peckinpah's thing. We were aware of those similarities, certainly."[21] They discuss choreographing and directing the film's violent scenes in the Sydney Morning Herald: "'That stuff is such fun to do', the brothers chime in at the mention of their penchant for blood-letting. 'Even Javier would come in by the end of the movie, rub his hands together and say, 'OK, who am I killing today?' adds Joel. 'It's fun to figure out', says Ethan. 'It's fun working out how to choreograph it, how to shoot it, how to engage audiences watching it.'"[61]

Director Joel Coen described the process of film making: "I can almost set my watch by how I'm going to feel at different stages of the process. It's always identical, whether the movie ends up working or not. I think when you watch the dailies, the film that you shoot every day, you're very excited by it and very optimistic about how it's going to work. And when you see it the first time you put the film together, the roughest cut, is when you want to go home and open up your veins and get in a warm tub and just go away. And then it gradually, maybe, works its way back, somewhere toward that spot you were at before."[36]

David Denby of The New Yorker criticized the way the Coens "disposed of" Llewelyn Moss. "The Coens, however faithful to the book", he said, "cannot be forgiven for disposing of Llewelyn so casually. After watching this foolhardy but physically gifted and decent guy escape so many traps, we have a great deal invested in him emotionally, and yet he's eliminated, off-camera, by some unknown Mexicans. He doesn't get the dignity of a death scene. The Coens have suppressed their natural jauntiness. They have become orderly, disciplined masters of chaos, but one still has the feeling that, out there on the road from nowhere to nowhere, they are rooting for it rather than against it."[62]

Josh Brolin discussed the Coens' directing style in an interview, saying that the brothers "only really say what needs to be said. They don't sit there as directors and manipulate you and go into page after page to try to get you to a certain place. They may come in and say one word or two words, so that was nice to be around in order to feed the other thing. 'What should I do right now? I'll just watch Ethan go humming to himself and pacing. Maybe that's what I should do, too.'"[35]

In an interview with Logan Hill of New York magazine, Brolin expressed that he had "a load of fun" while working with the Coens. "We had a load of fun making it," he said. "Maybe it was because we both [Brolin and Javier Bardem] thought we'd be fired. With the Coens, there's zero compliments, really zero anything. No 'nice work.' Nothing. And then—I'm doing this scene with Woody Harrelson. Woody can't remember his lines, he stumbles his way through it, and then both Coens are like, 'Oh my God! Fantastic!'"[63]

David Gritten of The Daily Telegraph wonders: "Are the Coens finally growing up?" He adds: "If [the film] feels pessimistic, Joel insists that's not the Coens' responsibility: 'I don't think the movie is more or less so than the novel. We tried to give it the same feeling.' The brothers do concede, however, that it's a dark piece of storytelling. 'It's refreshing for us to do different kinds of things,' says Ethan, 'and we'd just done a couple of comedies.'"[64]

Musical score and sound[edit]

"What you hear mostly is a suffocating silence" ... Skip Lievsay, the film's sound editor said: "I think [removing the score] makes the movie much more suspenseful. You're not guided by the score and so you lose that comfort zone." [65]

The Coens minimized the score used in the film, leaving large sections devoid of music. The concept was Ethan's, who persuaded a skeptical Joel to go with the idea. There is some music in the movie, scored by the Coens' longtime composer, Carter Burwell, but after finding that "most musical instruments didn't fit with the minimalist sound sculpture he had in mind [...] he used singing bowls, standing metal bells traditionally employed in Buddhist meditation practice that produce a sustained tone when rubbed." The movie contains a "mere" 16 minutes of music, with several of those in the end credits. The music in the trailer was called "Diabolic Clockwork" by Two Steps from Hell. Sound editing and effects were provided by another longtime Coens collaborator, Skip Lievsay, who used a mixture of emphatic sounds (gun shots) and ambient noise (engine noise, prairie winds) in the mix. The Foley for the captive bolt pistol used by Chigurh was created using a pneumatic nail gun.[65]

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker states that "there is barely any music, sensual or otherwise, and Carter Burwell's score is little more than a fitful murmur",[66] and Douglas McFarland states that "perhaps [the film's] salient formal characteristic is the absence, with one telling exception, of a musical soundtrack, creating a mood conducive to thoughtful and unornamented speculation in what is otherwise a fierce and destructive landscape."[67]

Jay Ellis, however, disagrees. "[McFarland] missed the extremely quiet but audible fade in a few tones from a keyboard beginning when Chigurh flips the coin for the gas station man", he said. "This ambient music (by long-time Coens collaborator Carter Burwell) grows imperceptibly in volume so that it is easily missed as an element of the mis-en-scene. But it is there, telling our unconscious that something different is occurring with the toss; this becomes certain when it ends as Chigurh uncovers the coin on the counter. The deepest danger has passed as soon as Chigurh finds (and Javier Bardem's acting confirms this) and reveals to the man that he has won."[68] In order to achieve such sound effect, Burwell "tuned the music's swelling hum to the 60-hertz frequency of a refrigerator."[65]

Dennis Lim of The New York Times stressed that "there is virtually no music on the soundtrack of this tense, methodical thriller. Long passages are entirely wordless. In some of the most gripping sequences what you hear mostly is a suffocating silence." Skip Lievsay, the film's sound editor called this approach "quite a remarkable experiment," and added that "suspense thrillers in Hollywood are traditionally done almost entirely with music. The idea here was to remove the safety net that lets the audience feel like they know what's going to happen. I think it makes the movie much more suspenseful. You're not guided by the score and so you lose that comfort zone."[65]

James Roman observes the effect of sound in the scene where Chigurh pulls in for gas at the Texaco rest stop. "[The] scene evokes an eerie portrayal of innocence confronting evil," he says, "with the subtle images richly nuanced by sound. As the scene opens in a long shot, the screen is filled with the remote location of the rest stop with the sound of the Texaco sign mildly squeaking in a light breeze. The sound and image of a crinkled candy wrapper tossed on the counter adds to the tension as the paper twists and turns. The intimacy and potential horror that it suggests is never elevated to a level of kitschy drama as the tension rises from the mere sense of quiet and doom that prevails."[69]

Jeffrey Overstreet adds that "the scenes in which Chigurh stalks Moss are as suspenseful as anything the Coens have ever staged. And that has as much to do with what we hear as what we see. No Country for Old Men lacks a traditional soundtrack, but don't say it doesn't have music. The blip-blip-blip of a transponder becomes as frightening as the famous theme from Jaws. The sound of footsteps on the hardwood floors of a hotel hallway are as ominous as the drums of war. When the leather of a briefcase squeaks against the metal of a ventilation shaft, you'll cringe, and the distant echo of a telephone ringing in a hotel lobby will jangle your nerves."[70]

Style[edit]

While No Country for Old Men is a "doggedly faithful" adaptation of McCarthy's 2005 novel and its themes, the film also revisits themes which the Coens had explored in their earlier movies Blood Simple and Fargo.[71] The three films share common themes, such as pessimism and nihilism.[72][73][74][75][76] The novel's motifs of chance, free-will, and predestination are familiar territory for the Coen brothers, who presented similar threads and tapestries of "fate [and] circumstance" in earlier works including Raising Arizona, which featured another hitman, albeit less serious in tone.[77][78] Numerous critics cited the importance of chance to both the novel and the film, focusing on Chigurh's fate-deciding coin flipping,[79] but noted that the nature of the film medium made it difficult to include the "self-reflective qualities of McCarthy's novel."[80]

Still, the Coens open the film with a voice-over narration by Tommy Lee Jones (who plays Sheriff Ed Tom Bell) set against the barren Texas country landscape where he makes his home. His ruminations on a teenager he sent to the chair explain that, although the newspapers described the boy's murder of his 14-year-old girlfriend as a crime of passion, "he told me there weren't nothin' passionate about it. Said he'd been fixin' to kill someone for as long as he could remember. Said if I let him out of there, he'd kill somebody again. Said he was goin' to hell. Reckoned he'd be there in about 15 minutes."[81] Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert praised the narration. "These words sounded verbatim to me from No Country for Old Men, the novel by Cormac McCarthy", he said. "But I find they are not quite. And their impact has been improved upon in the delivery. When I get the DVD of this film, I will listen to that stretch of narration several times; Jones delivers it with a vocal precision and contained emotion that is extraordinary, and it sets up the entire film."[17]

In The Village Voice, Scott Foundas writes that "Like McCarthy, the Coens are markedly less interested in who (if anyone) gets away with the loot than in the primal forces that urge the characters forward... In the end, everyone in No Country for Old Men is both hunter and hunted, members of some endangered species trying to forestall their extinction."[82] Roger Ebert writes that "the movie demonstrates how pitiful ordinary human feelings are in the face of implacable injustice."[17]

New York Times critic A. O. Scott observes that Chigurh, Moss, and Bell each "occupy the screen one at a time, almost never appearing in the frame together, even as their fates become ever more intimately entwined."[83]

Variety critic Todd McCarthy describes Chigurh's modus operandi: "Death walks hand in hand with Chigurh wherever he goes, unless he decides otherwise .... [I]f everything you've done in your life has led you to him, he may explain to his about-to-be victims, your time might just have come. 'You don't have to do this,' the innocent invariably insist to a man whose murderous code dictates otherwise. Occasionally, however, he will allow someone to decide his own fate by coin toss, notably in a tense early scene in an old filling station marbled with nervous humor."[84]

Jim Emerson describes how the Coens introduced Chigurh in one of the first scenes when he strangles the deputy who arrested him: "A killer rises: Our first blurred sight of Chigurh's face ... As he moves forward, into focus, to make his first kill, we still don't get a good look at him because his head rises above the top of the frame. His victim, the deputy, never sees what's coming, and Chigurh, chillingly, doesn't even bother to look at his face while he garrotes him."[85]

Critic Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian stated that "the savoury, serio-comic tang of the Coens' film-making style is recognisably present, as is their predilection for the weirdness of hotels and motels". But he added that they "have found something that has heightened and deepened their identity as film-makers: a real sense of seriousness, a sense that their offbeat Americana and gruesome and surreal comic contortions can really be more than the sum of their parts".[86]

Geoff Andrew of Time Out London said that the Coens "find a cinematic equivalent to McCarthy's language: his narrative ellipses, play with point of view, and structural concerns such as the exploration of the similarities and differences between Moss, Chigurh and Bell. Certain virtuoso sequences feel near-abstract in their focus on objects, sounds, light, colour or camera angle rather than on human presence ... Notwithstanding much marvellous deadpan humour, this is one of their darkest efforts."[87]

Arne De Boever believes that there is a "close affinity, and intimacy even, between the sheriff and Chigurh in No Country for Old Men [which is developed] in a number of scenes. There is, to begin with, the sheriff's voice at the beginning of the film, which accompanies the images of Chigurh's arrest. This initial weaving together of the figures of Chigurh and the sheriff is further developed later on in the film, when the sheriff visits Llewelyn Moss' trailer home in search for Moss and his wife, Carla Jean. Chigurh has visited the trailer only minutes before, and the Coen brothers have the sheriff sit down in the same exact spot where Chigurh had been sitting (which is almost the exact same spot where, the evening before, Moss joined his wife on the couch). Like Chigurh, the sheriff sees himself reflected in the dark glass of Moss' television, their mirror images perfectly overlapping if one were to superimpose these two shots. When the sheriff pours himself a glass of milk from the bottle that stands sweating on the living room table—a sign that the sheriff and his colleague, deputy Wendell (Garret Dillahunt), only just missed their man—this mirroring of images goes beyond the level of reflection, and Chigurh enters into the sheriff's constitution, thus further undermining any easy opposition of Chigurh and the sheriff, and instead exposing a certain affinity, intimacy, or similarity even between both."[88]

Depicted violence[edit]

In an interview with Charlie Rose, co-director Joel Coen acknowledged that "there's a lot of violence in the book," and considered the violence depicted in the film as "very important to the story". He further added that "we couldn't conceive it, sort of soft pedaling that in the movie, and really doing a thing resembling the book ... it's about a character confronting a very arbitrary violent brutal world, and you have to see that."[37]

Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan commented on the violence depicted in the film: "The Coen brothers dropped the mask. They've put violence on screen before, lots of it, but not like this. Not anything like this. No Country for Old Men doesn't celebrate or smile at violence; it despairs of it." However, Turan explained that "no one should see No Country for Old Men underestimating the intensity of its violence. But it's also clear that the Coen brothers and McCarthy are not interested in violence for its own sake, but for what it says about the world we live in ... As the film begins, a confident deputy says I got it under control, and in moments he is dead. He didn't have anywhere near the mastery he imagined. And in this despairing vision, neither does anyone else."[89]

NPR critic Bob Mondello adds that "despite working with a plot about implacable malice, the Coen Brothers don't ever overdo. You could even say they know the value of understatement: At one point they garner chills simply by having a character check the soles of his boots as he steps from a doorway into the sunlight. By that time, blood has pooled often enough in No Country for Old Men that they don't have to show you what he's checking for."[90]

Critic Stephanie Zacharek of Salon states that "this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel touches on brutal themes, but never really gets its hands dirty. The movie's violence isn't pulpy and visceral, the kind of thing that hits like a fist; it's brutal, and rather relentless, but there are still several layers of comfortable distance between it and us. At one point a character lifts his cowboy boot, daintily, so it won't be mussed by the pool of blood gathering at his feet ... The Coens have often used cruel violence to make their points — that's nothing new — but putting that violence to work in the service of allegedly deep themes isn't the same as actually getting your hands dirty. No Country for Old Men feels less like a breathing, thinking movie than an exercise. That may be partly because it's an adaptation of a book by a contemporary author who's usually spoken of in hushed, respectful, hat-in-hand tones, as if he were a schoolmarm who'd finally brought some sense and order to a lawless town."[91]

Ryan P. Doom explains how the violence devolves as the film progresses. "The savagery of American violence," he says, "begins with Chigurh's introduction: a quick one-two punch of strangulation and a bloody cattle gun. The strangulation in particular demonstrates the level of the Coens' capability to create realistic carnage-to allow the audience to understand the horror that violence delivers.

Over the duration of No Country for Old Men, Chigurh kills a total of 12 (possibly more) people, and, curiously enough, the violence devolves as the film progresses. During the first half of the film, the Coens never shy from unleashing Chigurh ... The devolution of violence starts with Chigurh's shootout with Moss in the hotel. Aside from the truck owner who is shot in the head after Moss flags him down, both the hotel clerk and Wells' death occur offscrean. Wells' death in particular demonstrates that murder means nothing. Calm beyond comfort, the camera pans away when Chigurh shoots Wells with a silenced shotgun as the phone rings. He answers. It's Moss, and while they talk, blood oozes across the room toward Chigurh's feet. Not moving, he places his feet up on the bed and continues the conversation as the blood continues to spread across the floor. By the time he keeps his promise of visiting Carla Jean, the resolution and the violence appear incomplete. Though we're not shown Carla Jean's death, when Chigurh exits and checks the bottom of his socks [boots] for blood, it's a clear indication that his brand of violence has struck again."[92]

Similarities to earlier Coen brothers' films[edit]

Richard Gillmore states that "the previous Coen brothers' movie that has the most in common with No Country for Old Men is, in fact, Fargo (1996). In Fargo there is an older, wiser police chief, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) just as there is in No Country for Old Men. In both movies, a local police officer is confronted with some grisly murders committed by men who are not from his or her town. In both movies, greed lies behind the plots. Both movies feature as a central character a cold-blooded killer who does not seem quite human and whom the police officer seeks to apprehend."[39]

Joel Coen seems to agree. In an interview with David Gritten of The Daily Telegraph, Gritten states that "overall [the film] seems to belong in a rarefied category of Coen films occupied only by Fargo (1996), which ... is also a crime story with a decent small-town sheriff as its central character. Joel sighs. 'I know. There are parallels.' He shakes his head. 'These things really should seem obvious to us.'"[64] In addition, Ethan Coen states that "we're not conscious of it, [and] to the extent that we are, we try to avoid it. The similarity to Fargo did occur to us, not that it was a good or a bad thing. That's the only thing that comes to mind as being reminiscent of our own movies, [and] it is by accident."[53]

Richard Corliss of Time magazine adds that "there's also Tommy Lee Jones playing a cop as righteous as Marge in Fargo",[93] while Paul Arendt of the BBC stated that the film transplants the "despairing nihilism and tar-black humour of Fargo to the arid plains of Blood Simple."[94]

Genre[edit]

"Crime western noir horror comedy"

–Critic Rob Mackie of The Guardian on the many genres he believes are reflected in the film.[95]

In an interview with The New York Times, the Coens "do not agree that [the film] is a western. 'When we think about westerns,' Joel explained, 'we think about horses and six-guns, saloons and hitching posts.' Ethan, who was sitting next to his older brother on the couch in their cluttered college-dorm-like production office in downtown Manhattan, continued the thought. 'No Country for Old Men is sort of a western,' he said, 'and sort of not.'"[96] Joel Coen later stated that "it's as close as we'll come to doing an action movie. It's a chase story–with Chigurh chasing Moss and the Sheriff bringing up the tail. It's a lot of physical activity to achieve a purpose. It's interesting in a genre way; but it was also interesting to us because it subverts the genre expectations."[97]

For Richard Gillmore, "No Country for Old Men is, and is not, a western. It takes place in the West and its main protagonists are what you might call westerners. On the other hand, the plot revolves around a drug deal that has gone bad; it involves four-wheel-drive vehicles, semiautomatic weapons, and executives in high-rise buildings, none of which would seem to belong in a western."[39]

William J. Devlin categorizes the film as a "neo-western", distinguishing it from the classic western by the way it "demonstrates a decline, or decay, of the traditional western ideal... The moral framework of the West – or the country, or the world – is changing. The traditional western framework that contained innocent and wholesome westerners striving to live out the American Dream, typical villains driven by greed and power, and the heroes who fought for what is right, is fading. The villains, or the criminals, act in such a way that the traditional hero cannot make sense of their criminal behavior. While the traditional villains, such as Ryker and Wilson [in the traditional western film Shane], are immoral and clearly 'bad guys', we can understand them because their actions are rational. We can see their actions are based on moral egoism, measured by their own self interests. But in the world of No Country for Old Men, the 'bad guys' act irrationally. They don't even act with criminal passion. As such, Bell cannot comprehend the enemies he should be confronting as the hero of today—for him, 'it's hard to even take measure.'"[98]

Devlin adds that "the stability of the western film collapses in the sense that we lose the order of the western narrative that provides us with the happy ending in which good triumphs over evil. In No Country for Old Men, without the final showdown between the hero and the villain, good cannot triumph. And so we see that the good either is killed (Llewelyn) or runs away (Bell). But does this mean that evil triumphs over good? Not necessarily. Bad guys, such as Wells and Chigurh's boss are killed, but it takes an even worse person to do it."[98]

Gillmore, though, finds "a mixing of the two great American movie genres, the western and film noir," which "reflect the two sides of the American psyche. On the one hand, there is a western in which the westerner is faced with overwhelming odds, but between his perseverance and his skill, he overcomes the odds and triumphs. This allegorizes the optimism of the American psyche. In film noir, on the other hand, the hero is smart (more or less) and wily and there are many obstacles to overcome, the odds are against him, and, in fact, he fails to overcome them. He is overwhelmed by the juggernaut of other people's evil or by the way the world just happens to go. This genre reflects the pessimism and fatalism of the American psyche. With No Country for Old Men, the Coens combine these two genres into one movie. It is a western with a tragic, existential, film noir ending. The western speaks to our youth (and nostalgically to us in our old age); film noir speaks to the sadder wisdom of age. No Country for Old Men speaks of both."[39]

Deborah Biancott debates that the film is a "western gothic". "Cormac McCarthy becomes a kind of genre thief," she says, "taking tropes from the thriller, the road movie, the western, and –most notably– Gothic literature to build a tale that feels both modern and timeless. He uses Gothic structure in particular to examine modern anxieties: loss of faith, anonymous violence, angst, madness, and moral decline. For No Country for Old Men is a Gothic story, a struggle for and with God, an examination of a humanity haunted by its past and condemned to the horrors of its future. It's an examination of class and inheritance, with the good ol' boys of Texas up against anonymous drug barons in high (and high-security) glass towers. It's a story about the mess and unholiness of modern human existence. And it's a tale of unrepentant evil, the frightening but compelling bad guy who lives by a moral code that is unrecognizable and alien. The wanderer, the psychopath, Anton Chigurh, is a man who's supernaturally invincible. He's a man with no particular class loyalties, no particular background, no particular –and this is important– community."[99]

Still, Paul Arendt of the BBC states that "No Country can be enjoyed as a straightforward genre thriller (and there are suspense sequences here that rival the best of Hitchcock)",[94] while Rob Mackie of The Guardian observes that many genres such as "crime western noir horror comedy" are reflected in the film.[95]

Themes and analysis[edit]

Themes[edit]

Authors and critics stressed that many themes are reflected in the film, including principle, higher laws and fate. Richard Gillmore stated that the sudden and violent crash that occurs right after Chigurh leaves the house where Carla Jean was staying is a sign that there are higher laws yet in the universe than Chigurh's principle. [39]

Enda McCaffrey focuses on the theme of 'fate', where in requesting Carson and Carla Jean to choose life or death on the toss of a coin, Chigurh is not just deferring choice to the realms of gratuity but he is also handing responsibility over to 'fate' in an act of bad faith that prevents him from taking responsibility for his own ethical choices.[100]

Other themes cover degenerate times, evolving evil, and ageing anxieties, where William Luhr explains that Sheriff Bell feels that the evil surrounding him has metastasized beyond his comprehension and that he can no longer even pretend that he can deal productively with it … the world is entering a phase so degenerate that traditional agents of law, stability, and continuity can no longer cope with, or even understand, it.[101]

Topics of religion, ethics and McCarthy’s Catholicism are also believed to be covered in the film. Enda McCaffrey explains that Moss’ return to help the lone survivor is a moral choice, motivated by (religious) compassion and an obligation to pre-established values.[100]

William Deresiewicz of The Nation elaborates that McCarthy had a Catholic upbringing, and his work is driven by a Catholic sense of sin and evil, where his novels are obsessed with good and evil, sin and suffering, fate and death, their imaginative power and philosophical depth are founded on the agonized perplexity with which they approach such questions. Call it Catholicism minus revelation.[102]

Alison Young states that although ostensibly a criminal, Llewelyn Moss is the film’s hero, an Everyman figure who commits a crime in unusual circumstances, and the spectator is thus able to view his theft as understandable rather than reprehensible.[103], while Roger D. Hodge of Harper’s Magazine believes that leaving the money behind would be unthinkable, where the world in which he finds himself has foreclosed that possibility.[104]

Richard Gilmore focuses on themes of Greek tragedy, and explains that what is of interest to McCarthy and the Coens is rather what happens when a good, but flawed, man encounters this force of nature in human guise. In this sense, No Country for Old Men recapitulates the patters of ancient Greek tragedy. As in ancient Greek tragedy, a good but flawed man will become enmeshed in events that will prove to be his ruin. A key element of the Greek tragedy is the idea of the protagonist's hamartia, the fatal flaw. This is quite literally suggested of Llewelyn at the beginning of the movie when he is hunting for antelope and ends up shooting one in the hindquarters. In a sense, the entire movie is prefigured in this scene. It is a scene that shows Llewelyn to be highly competent, an expert in hunting ... but the scene also shows his ultimate hubris, literally and figuratively. Instead of killing the antelope, he only wounds it, the worst possible outcome for a responsible hunter ... His experience is a Greek tragedy in miniature. [105]

Claude Mangion highlights themes of nihilism and philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, and believes that the character of Llewelyn Moss reminds us of the frailty and futility of the human will as it struggles to overcome meaninglessness. It was Nietzsche who pointed out, in [On] the Genealogy of Morals ... that it is not suffering per se that bothers humans, but pointless suffering. Humans are ready to die – as testified by the Christian martyrs – if they believe there is a point to their death, if their death can be re-configured within a larger framework of meaning, a metanarrative.[106]

William J. Devlin notices that "whether it is the attendant who lives by correctly calling the coin flip, Carla Jean who dies, Bell who ends up not confronting Chigurh, or Chigurh getting into a car accident–all of these events occurred by some degree of chance. This suggests that the question of good versus bad is no longer a significant question since these values can no longer be applied to individuals ... This leads to nihilism in the western frontier. As Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) explains, nihilism occurs when one infers 'that there is no meaning at all'; 'everything lacks meaning.' According to nihilism, life and the world are meaningless because there are no inherent structure, stability, order, or framework to them. As such, all the values that were once held to be significant are now seen as empty. Or as Nietzsche puts it, 'the biggest values devalue themselves.'" [107]

Cinematic influences: Alfred Hitchcock and Sam Peckinpah[edit]

Critic Tony Macklin noted that most of No Country for Old Men "is fraught with haphazard violence and tension. Some of the suspenseful sequences are excruciating. The master Hitchcock would be proud. The film is full of Hitchcockian touches and themes." [108]

Dennis Lim of The New York Times states that "there is at least one sequence in No Country for Old Men that could be termed Hitchcockian in its virtuosic deployment of sound. Holed up in a hotel room, Mr. Brolin's character awaits the arrival of his pursuer, Chigurh. He hears a distant noise. He calls the lobby. The rings are audible through the handset and, faintly, from downstairs. No one answers. Footsteps pad down the hall. The beeps of Chigurh's tracking device increase in frequency. Then there is a series of soft squeaks — only when the sliver of light under the door vanishes is it clear that a light bulb has been carefully unscrewed."[65]

Critics stated that the film has similarities with Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951),[109] and Psycho (1960)[108][110][111]

John Patterson of The Guardian states that "No Country for Old Men proves that the Coens' technical abilities, and their feel for a landscape-based western classicism reminiscent of Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah, are matched by few living directors. Peckinpah is the director whose themes and concerns – masculinity and self-preservation among them – sit foremost in the mind when reading the McCarthy novel and when seeing the movie, which is a faithful, almost verbatim adaptation."

The brothers are amenable to the comparison. Ethan: 'We were aware of the basic link just by virtue of the setting, the south-west, and this very male aspect of the story. Hard men in the south-west shooting each other – that's definitely Sam Peckinpah's thing. We were aware of those similarities, certainly.' Joel: 'Especially in the section of the movie where Woody Harrelson makes an appearance. He reminded us of a Peckinpah character in a certain way.' Ethan: 'Yeah, you show a hard-on guy in a western-cut suit and it already looks like a Peckinpah movie. Same kind of shorthand.'" [21]

Critics drew similarities between the film and Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), [112] [113][114][115][116] [117] and The Getaway (1972).[118][119][120][121]

Anton Chigurh[edit]

Richard Gilmore observes Chigurh’s rules and stresses that he recognizes that it is precisely his feelings, his desires, that make him vulnerable. His rule—that chance must trump any desire that he might have—is in the service of maximum invulnerability.[122] William J. Devlin states that: First, Chigurh does not appeal to money or power as the greatest end for which one should strive. Second, Chigurh does not appear to be acting purely out of self-interest. By murdering his boss and Carla Jean, he gains nothing for himself. Third, Chigurh’s own justification of his actions doesn’t appeal to the consequences that are produced; rather like Kant’s deontology, he justifies his actions insofar as they are ‘good’ in themselves. [98]

Alison Reed explains that the film is “about seeing and who has the power to see: Chigurh [destroys] everyone who wields the gaze within a country that excludes him on the basis of [the] violent act of seeing … When Llewelyn calls asking for Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), Chigurh answers the phone and demands: ‘You need to come see me’. Chigurh is obsessed with the sight of his victims. Those who threaten to ‘see’ him (beyond the literal meaning) have little chance of survival. Wells is shocked to hear that Llewelyn has seen Chigurh: ‘You've seen him, and you're not dead?’ [123]

As for Chigurh’s weapons of choice, Scott Covell explains that "Chigurh’s most intriguing weapon (and door-opening unit) is also one of the most perfect McCarthy/Coen brothers postmodern elements to the film and novel: the carbon dioxide–powered captive bolt pistol. Here is a weapon that offers an inversion or subversion of the usual manly implementia carted about by our Western villains: it suggests a subversion of the ubiquitous cowboy and his use of a rifle to guard the vast herds of steer back in the ‘Wild West’ days. This gun is used to kill the steer—not guard them.

In the film version of No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers and Javier Bardem have combined with Cormac McCarthy to create a new type of killer. He is postmodern … Recent Westerns surprisingly have fashioned some of the best ruminations into these questions, offering new villains with intriguing moral, behavioral, and ontological complexities and nuances." [124]

Chigurh’s haircut, according to Actor Javier Bardem, was the idea of the Coen brothers. Joel Coen stated that “the idea for the hair, for Javier’s character, was the result of a photograph that we saw of a man sitting at a bar in a bordertown whorehouse in 1979. He had that haircut, and very similar clothes to what Javier wore in the movie. It was sort of patterned on that guy.” [53]

Associated Press reported that the haircut was created by hair stylist Paul LeBlanc. LeBlanc created the hairstyle for Bardem's character in No Country for Old Men, drawing on the mop tops of the British warriors in the medieval Crusades as well as the haircuts of the 1960s for inspiration.[125] In April 2008, Entertainment Weekly magazine chose Chigurh’s haircut as one of the “21 Bad Movie Hairdos”. [126]

Characterization[edit]

Many critics, in addition to Co-Director Joel Coen, discuss the characterization of Chigurh. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Coen believed that Chigurh “is the one character in the book that actually departs from a certain sense of realism, he’s both sort of real in the book and an idea.” [37]

Manuel Broncano describes Chigurh as the ‘Antichrist’. “Of the three major branches of Christian eschatology,” he says, "No Country for Old Men orchestrates an apocalyptic rhetoric by which drug dealing is described as a devastating and biblical-like plague and Anton Chigurh as a true Antichrist." [127]

Don Graham states that "we are introduced to one of Satan’s chief subalterns, Anton Chigurh, he of the pneumatic device, an otherworldly psychopath possessed of a philosophical bent … Chigurh’s philosophy doesn’t come from Christianity but from a source that’s not identified and is therefore sure to intrigue the intrepid McCarthy exegetes on the Internet" [128]

Actor Josh Brolin described the character of Anton Chigurh as the Grim Reaper. He added in a press interview released by Miramax: "He's the devil incarnate ... You don't understand [his violence], you can't pigeonhole it. You can't categorize it." [129]

Paula Bomer believes that Chigurh is an angel, sent by God to destroy all of those who suffer from greed. He is punishing normal, human sinners, which is something the Catholic God does. Anton (after Saint Anthony, renowned for his work against the Devil) kills everyone who in any way took money, drug money, which did not belong to them. He is the opposite of evil. He is divine power. He is fighting the Devil in the shape of drugs and drug money.[130]

Jim Welsh describes Chigurh as a 'ghost' and assures that “there is no ultimate showdown between the professional lawman and the professional assassin, and one wonders if this is by accident or by design … Sheriff Bell is tracking a killer, but there will be no clear, dramatic confrontation, perhaps because Sheriff Bell knows he can’t cheat Death or kill the Devil, that the deck may be stacked against him. If not the Devil, then maybe a ghost, as Bell himself suggests? So who said he was chasing an abstraction? … The killer, the ‘ghost’, Anton Chigurh, seems too spooky, too otherworldly to be 'real'" [131]

Louis Proyect highlights that [Chigurh’s] character is a mixture of a less interesting version of the Samuel Jackson hit-man in Pulp Fiction and the very first Terminator–the unrelenting evil one. Entirely missing is the kind of bent humor found in the kidnappers in Fargo, who despite being creeps were a source of amusement.[132]

William Ferraiolo states that Chigurh seems, at some points in the narrative, to behave as an instrument of karmic consequence; he ensures that others reap what, in his estimation, they have sown … Chigurh is something closer to a force of nature – as inexorable and disinterested in human life as a flood, earthquake, or, indeed, a [bubonic] plague … Chigurh is the implement linking karma and consequence – as he is also a product of karma and consequence.[133]

The coin-toss scene[edit]

William J. Devlin believes that Chigurh, in the coin-toss scene, "detaches himself" from "any moral responsibility for his actions." Chigurh is acknowledging that since this is a life or death decision, it is only morally right for the person whose life is at stake to roll the dice of chance. By offering his potential victims the coin flip, Chigurh sees himself as introducing a chance occurrence into the equation … and he introduces the notion of luck and chance occurrences into his decision making, thereby negating, in his own estimation, any moral responsibility for his actions.[134]

Roberta Piazza, Monika Bednarek and Fabio Rossi relate the importance of the coin-toss scene to two reasons: "Firstly, it introduces us to the use of discourse in film as a tool for characterisation, e.g. as way of entering the mind of a character, or his/her ‘mind style’ (Fowler 1977) - in this case the madman, the assassin, the alienated and feared other. Secondly, it reveals the importance of discourse in film (and television), where it can fulfill a number of specific functions: beside contributing to characterisation, it defines narrative genres and engages viewers." [135]

Matthew Fotis observes similarities between No Country for Old Men and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). "Like many aspects of folklore," Fotis notes, "coin tossing has made its way into film. Two of the most critically acclaimed films of 2007 and 2008 prominently feature coin tosses. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the cold blooded villain of the Coen Brothers Academy Award winning No Country for Old Men, and Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the white knight district attorney in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, both use coin tosses throughout their respective films. The use of Flipism by Chigurh and Dent seemingly suggests a world ordered by fate, destiny and the cosmos." [136]

Cultural perceptions: Ethnicity, race and gender roles[edit]

Alison Reed states that upon entering Mexico, Llewelyn forfeits his markers of whiteness—the cowboy hat, the crisp white work shirt, the stiff denim—and thus all too easily slides into otherness. After his encounter with the three American men, he wakes up in a Mexican hospital with the bounty hunter Carson Wells at his side. The bouquet of flowers that Wells holds out in front of him starkly contrasts the white walls and sterile furniture of the small hospital room. Llewelyn, stripped of the visual cues that mark his whiteness and instead draped in a nondescript hospital gown, appears Mexican only in relation to his environment: his darkly tanned skin, slick black hair, moustache, and four o’clock shadow juxtaposed against the whiteness of the hospital walls and of Carson Wells. Wells, hovering over him with blond hair, blue eyes, and a cowboy hat, replaces Llewelyn as cowboy: without the visual markers of his Texan identity, Llewelyn no longer clearly reads as white. When Llewelyn walks back into Texas, still wearing his white hospital gown, he must convince the Border Patrol agent to admit him back into the United States. Unconvinced and threatening, the border patrol agent admits Llewelyn only at the moment in which Llewelyn secures his status as a Vietnam War veteran. Unable to be pinned racially, Llewelyn proves his whiteness only by virtue of his military service.[123]

Ryan P. Doom discusses the role of women and claims that "the women in No Country for Old Men serve no purpose other than to offer support. They do not influence the story in regards to action or the decisions that the men make. It’s as if the setting were indeed in the Old West, as if the women lacked the right to vote." [92]

Erin K. Johns, however, disagrees and explains that Carla Jean "gains agency as the film progresses; she becomes a woman at odds not only with her husband, Llewelyn, but also with Anton Chigurh, the systematic and cold psychopathic killer who relies on the system of fate ... Carla Jean Moss and Loretta Bell, Ed Tom’s wife, recognize and work with and against all of the different and constantly adapting masculine systems. The two major women in the film offer the only places of resistance to the ultimate masculine system: the justified fate that Chigurh inflicts through death."

She adds that "although set in the 1980s, No Country for Old Men exposes the rapidly changing gender structure of the twenty-first century: one where stereotypical and traditional male roles are constantly being resisted and replaced by roles that have traditionally been termed feminine ... Perhaps, as the end of the movie suggests, a man can either wither away quietly into retirement or fashion himself a sling for his broken body–still disappearing from the scene like a ghost. In either case, No Country for Old Men shows that a ghost is all that is left of masculine or patriarchal systems and codes." [137]

West Texas: Landscape, settings and history[edit]

In an interview with The Guardian, Joel Coen emphasized the importance of landscape in his films. "There's a very direct relationship of character and story to landscape, or location," he said. "It's hard for us to come up with a story unless we establish that pretty early. It's hard for us to write a story that can take place just as easily here or there. It has to be specific. The 'here' is where you start." [138]

Roger D. Hodge of Harper's Magazine presents a brief history of the West Texas region where the events in the novel took place, and describes its effect on McCarthy's literature. He further explains that "McCarthy insists on the relics of ancient, vanished peoples in his landscapes. And he makes no secret of his view that those whose lives he describes are no less ephemeral. Indeed, what the landscape of West Texas suggests is that the ranchers who have peopled [his] last four novels are a good deal more likely to vanish without a trace than were the Indians, whose art, exposed to the elements for thousands of years, still bears witness to their lifeways. The metal implements used by the ranchers to make horseshoes and axes and elaborate irrigation systems have rusted and are crumbling into dust, together with concrete water troughs and cedar picket stock pens. Some of these artifacts may survive to be puzzled over by future generations, though perhaps it will be the opium tins and pipes and iron woks of the Chinese workers who populated railroad camps for a year or two along the Rio Grande in the 1880s. Or other nameless implements that were used to chisel passages and tunnels for the railroad. Or the clever wire swivels used by Mexican goat herders to stake kids under rock lean-tos in kidding camps. This landscape, which appears almost empty today, is a palimpsest of cultures. All of them lost, undone." [104]

Metaphor for contemporary America[edit]

Joan Mellen compares the film, "set in 1980, in an explicitly post-Vietnam aftermath," to Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah, which regards the Iraq War and was released in the same year. "The highly trained soldiers and former soldiers in In the Valley of Elah and No Country for Old Men," she says, "formidably skilled in violence and tactics for survival under unspeakable conditions, returned home as deformed human beings, tormented by their experience and a danger to others and to themselves. This harrowing conjunction of professionalism at war and personal brutalization may be read as a metaphor for the entropy of contemporary America."

Mellen also compares Anton Chigurh and war veterans in No Country for Old Men and In the Valley of Elah to Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, portrayed by Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) about the Vietnam War and adapted from Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness.

"Chigurh is a direct descendant of Joseph Conrad's Kurtz," she says. "Once the emissary of 'pity, science and progress,' as Conrad puts it, Kurtz ends up a murderous madman, answerable to no one. He decorated his Congo [in the novella] encampment with the shrunken heads of his victims, and only, at the moment of his death, could he pass judgment on the entire imperialist enterprise, of which he was a part: 'The horror, the horror.'

These men, having returned from Vietnam and from Iraq, have grown, in varying degrees, into instinctual killers. The soldiers and former soldiers in No Country for Old Men and In the Valley of Elah surpass Kurtz in one respect: they have brought their atrocities home. Both films depict a precipitous decline in the moral tenor of American society where the safety of its citizens has become, as never before, a virtual anachronism." [139]

Film ending and final scene[edit]

Co-Director Joel Coen stated that "the ending of the movie is taken verbatim from the end of the novel. That was one of the things that interested us when we first read the novel, just as a story, the way that Cormac set up an expectation of a genre piece in a way, and sort of pulled the rug out from under you as you read it." [53]

Curt Holman of CL Atlanta also argues that "there's something deflating about the film's final scenes. McCarthy raises the ancient problem of human evil: Is it an inherent flaw of human nature, or the net result of random fate? McCarthy seems to conclude that it's a generational thing. 'Anytime you quit hearing 'Sir' and 'Ma'am', the end is pretty much in sight,' says [Sheriff] Bell, and you suspect he's only half-kidding." [140]

Actor Josh Brolin, however, defended the ending of the film. "I love that people are talking about this movie. I love that people leave the movie saying, 'I hate the ending. I was so pissed.' Good, it was supposed to piss you off," the 39-year-old star told MTV News. "You completely lend yourself to [my] character and then you're completely raped of this character. I don't find it manipulative at all. I find it to be a great homage to that kind of violence." After being chased by Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh the entire movie, Brolin meets his violent end off-screen. Soon after, his wife is brutally murdered off-screen as well. After all that build-up, all that destruction, the film ends, not with an orgasmic culmination of violence, but with a quiet monologue from Sheriff Tom Bell Tommy Lee Jones. "If you were expecting something different," Brolin argues, that "says more about you than the movie. You wanted to see his death, why? Because you're used to it. Aren't you so pleased to see a different take on the same cat and mouse game?" he asked.[141]

Release[edit]

Theatrical release and box office[edit]

No Country for Old Men premiered in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival on May 19.[11] Stephen Robb of the BBC covered the film opening at Cannes. "With no sign yet of an undisputed classic in competition at this 60th Cannes," he said, "No Country for Old Men may have emerged as a frontrunner for the trophy Joel and Ethan Coen collected for Barton Fink in 1991. 'We are very fortunate in that our films have sort of found a home here,' says Joel. 'From the point of view of getting the movies out to an audience, this has always been a very congenial platform.'

The reception to the film's first press screening in Cannes was positive. Screen International's jury of critics, assembled for its daily Cannes publication, all gave the film three or four marks out of four. The magazine's review said the film fell short of 'the greatness that sometimes seems within its grasp'. But it added that the film was 'guaranteed to attract a healthy audience on the basis of the track record of those involved, respect for the novel and critical support.'"[142]

The film commercially opened in limited release in 28 theaters in the United States on November 9, 2007, grossing $1,226,333 over the opening weekend. The film expanded to a wide release in 860 theaters in the United States on November 21, 2007, grossing $7,776,773 over the first weekend. The film subsequently increased the number of theaters to 2,037. It was the 5th highest ranking film at the US box office in the weekend ending December 16, 2007.[143] The film opened in Australia on December 26, 2007, and in the United Kingdom (limited release) and Ireland on January 18, 2008.[12] As of February 13, 2009, the film had grossed $74,283,000 domestically (United States).[143][144][145] No Country for Old Men became the biggest box-office hit for the Coens to date,[13] until it was surpassed by True Grit in 2010.[146]

The film was the second top grossing Best Picture nominee for 2007, after Juno, which was distributed by Fox Searchlight and earned over $125 million in revenue.[147] However, as a winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, No Country for Old Men was ranked as the third lowest-grossing Oscar winner, only surpassed in terms of lower revenues by Crash (2005) and The Hurt Locker (2009). CNBC commented that "neither the Oscar win nor the slow roll-out of the film into wide release could get it past the $100 million mark, or even the $75 million mark [domestically], and No Country for Old Men remains one of the lowest-grossing Best Picture winners of all time."[148]

Paul Monaco observed that the studio employed a 'gradual-release' strategy. "With No Country for Old Men," he said, "Miramax had followed its patented gradual-release strategy for the movie's marketing. Produced for $30 million, it had earned just over $60 million by the time it won the Best Picture Oscar. Industry predictions expected only another $10 million to $20 million in revenues theatrically following the awards. The final balance sheet on No Country for Old Men, indeed, was a $74 million gross [domestically]."[97]

Nick Redfern evaluates the film's box office performance as an Academy Award for Best Picture winner. "The King's Speech won the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday [the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27, 2011]," he said, "and has so grossed over $245 million worldwide against a budget of $15 million. This film follows in the footsteps of The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country for Old Men in being voted Best Picture despite being anything but the blockbuster-type films that Hollywood is so economically dependent upon.

No Country for Old Men is another film released in November. It is another film that was initially given a limited release to just 28 theatres (grossing $1,226,333) before going wide after two weeks to 860 theatres (grossing $7,776,773) – hence the big jump in grosses around day 15 ... It is another film to have benefitted from the nomination and the win, with weekend grosses picking up after each (although the weekday grosses after the nomination do not appear to have changed that much).

Taking these films together – The King's Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country for Old Men – we can see that the Academy Award for Best Picture over the past four years has gone to films that have had similar release patterns. In fact, we have to go back to The Departed in 2006 to find a Best Picture winner with the time series chart that is typical of Hollywood blockbusters – a big opening weekend followed by a steady decline."[149]

Home media[edit]

Buena Vista Home Entertainment released the movie on DVD and in the high definition Blu-ray format on March 11, 2008 in the US. The only extras are three behind-the-scenes featurettes.[150] The release topped the home video rental charts upon release and remained in the top 10 positions for the first 5 weeks.[151]

Website Blu-ray.com reviewed the Blu-ray edition of the film, and gave the video quality an almost full mark. It stated that "with its AVC MPEG-4 video on BD-50, the picture quality of No Country for Old Men stands on the highest rung of the home video ladder. Color vibrancy, black level, resolution and contrast are reference quality ... Every line and wrinkle in Bell's face is resolved and Chigurh sports a pageboy haircut in which every strand of hair appears individually distinguishable. No other film brings its characters to life so vividly solely on the merits of visual technicalities ... Watch the nighttime shoot-out between Moss and Chigurh outside the hotel ... As bullets slam through the windshield of Moss' getaway car, watch as every crack and bullet hole in the glass is extraordinarily defined."

The audio quality earned an almost full mark, where the "24-bit 48 kHz lossless PCM serves voices well, and excels in more treble-prone sounds ... Perhaps the most audibly dynamic sequence is the dawn chase scene after Moss returns with water. Close your eyes and listen to Moss' breathing and footsteps as he runs, the truck in pursuit as it labors over rocks and shrubs, the crack of the rifle and hissing of bullets as they rip through the air and hit the ground ... the entire sequence and the film overall sounds very convincing."[152]

Kenneth S. Brown of website High-Def Digest stated that "the Blu-ray edition of the film ... is magnificent ... and includes all of the 480i/p special features that appear on the standard DVD. However, to my disappointment, the slim supplemental package doesn't include a much needed directors' commentary from the Coens. It would have been fascinating to listen to the brothers dissect the differences between the original novel and the Oscar winning film. It may not have a compelling supplemental package, but it does have a striking video transfer and an excellent PCM audio track."[153]

The Region 2 DVD (courtesy of Paramount) was released on June 2, 2008. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the UK on September 8, 2008. A 3-disc special edition with a digital copy was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 7, 2009. It was presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish). This release included over five hours of new bonus features, almost all of which are complete interviews with an assortment of press sources. It lacks deleted scenes and audio commentary. Some of the bonus material/features on the disc include:

  • "'The Making of No Country for Old Men' (24:28) serves as a general overview of production. Cast and crew members discuss the movie's origins, genres, story and characters, before going into specific topics like the period setting, costuming, and practical special effects.
  • 'Working with the Coens' (8:07) gives us a deeper look at the brothers. The directors' methods are discussed, mostly by crew members who have long collaborated with them.
  • 'Diary of a Country Sheriff' (6:44) further considers the lead characters and the subtext they form.
  • 'Behind the Scenes of No Country for Old Men' (9:18): Brolin (who produced, directed, and edited this featurette), Javier Bardem, and Woody Harrelson give some tongue-in-cheek sound bites on performing for the Coen brothers.
  • 'EW.com Just a Minute' (12:54) has Entertainment Weekly writer Dave Karger interview Javier Bardem about Anton Chigurh and the movie, with several clips sprinkled throughout.
  • 'ABC Popcorn with Peter Travers' (14:50): [Interviews with] Macdonald, Brolin, and Bardem about their characters, the Coens, and challenging scenes. Travers can't help trying to be funny and complimenting Bardem's eyes.
  • 'In-Store Appearance' (40:28): It plays more movie clips and we hear several of the same questions and stories ... One subject first tackled here is the state-of-the-art casting video Brolin submitted with help from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
  • An installment of 'Charlie Rose' (22:30), serves up the kind of lofty dialogue the minimalist PBS talk show is known for. Rose is joined by both Coens, Bardem, and Brolin. Much of the episode centers on the filmmakers' processes.
  • 'Spike Jonze Q & A' (1:00:43), in which the Being John Malkovich director emcees a discussion with an assortment of 'No Country' filmmakers. Taking turns to join the Coens are cinematographer Roger Deakins, the sound team, and production designer Jess Gonchor. Each lineup naturally goes into detail about the aspect they worked on before answering audience questions."[154]

Reception[edit]

"This is frighteningly intelligent and imaginative."

–Critic Geoff Andrew of Time Out London[87]

"For formalists –those moviegoers sent into raptures by tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design– it's pure heaven."

–Critic A. O. Scott of The New York Times[83]

As of July, 2012, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reflected that 214 out of 226 critics (95%) gave the film a positive review.[155][156] Upon release, the film was widely discussed as a possible candidate for several Oscars,[157][158] before going on to receive eight nominations, and eventually winning four Academy Awards in 2008. Javier Bardem, in particular, has received considerable praise for his performance in the film.

James Berardinelli gave it three-and-a-half stars, saying:

Expecting normalcy from a Coen Brothers production is a pointless endeavor, but anticipating brilliance isn't outlandish.... The story is full of unexpected twists and switchbacks, and opportunities for the audience to gear down and take a breath are few and far between. Like Alfred Hitchcock with Psycho, the filmmakers don’t want viewers to become too comfortable with any of the characters.... [Chigurh is] probably the most compelling screen villain since Anthony Hopkins brought Hannibal Lecter to life in The Silence of the Lambs.... And, while the ending may be a sore point for some, it will have others chuckling and nodding their heads appreciatively (albeit perhaps after a brief "WTF?" when the end credits begin to roll). That's what good cinema is expected to do.[95]

Roger Ebert went even further, giving it four stars. He said:

Consider another scene in which the dialogue is as good as any you will hear this year. Chigurh enters a rundown gas station in the middle of wilderness and begins to play a word game with the old man (Gene Jones) behind the cash register, who becomes very nervous. It is clear they are talking about whether Chigurh will kill him. Chigurh has by no means made up his mind. Without explaining why, he asks the man to call the flip of a coin. Listen to what they say, how they say it, how they imply the stakes. Listen to their timing. You want to applaud the writing, which comes from the Coen brothers, out of McCarthy.... This movie is a masterful evocation of time, place, character, moral choices, immoral certainties, human nature and fate.[159]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said of the film:

It's the best of the [Coens'] career so far. The Coens are back with a vengeance, showing their various imitators and detractors what great American film-making looks like. The result is a dark, violent and deeply disquieting drama, leavened with brilliant noirish wisecracks, and boasting three leading male performances with all the spectacular virility of Texan steers. And all of it hard and sharp as a diamond.[86]

Rob Mackie of The Guardian also said:

What makes this such a stand-out is hard to put your finger on – it just feels like an absorbing and tense two hours where everyone is absolutely on top of their job and a comfortable fit in their roles.[95]

Geoff Andrew of Time Out London expressed that:

The film exerts a grip from start to end. A masterly tale of the good, the deranged and the doomed that inflects the raw violence of the west with a wry acknowledgement of the demise of codes of honour, this is frighteningly intelligent and imaginative.[87]

Richard Corliss of Time magazine chose the film as the best of the year, and said:

After two decades of being brilliant on the movie margins, the Coens are ready for their closeup, and maybe their Oscar.[160] By any standards, it's a super-violent thriller, as scary as the black hole where a madman's heart should be. Sure to be the brothers' most honored movie since Fargo, it's a great showcase for Joel and Ethan's storytelling finesse and filmmaking power. Just in their 50s now, the Coen brothers should be entertaining and challenging us for decades to come.[93]

Paul Arendt of the BBC gave the film a full mark and said:

[It] doesn't require a defense: it is a magnificent return to form ... [It] is both a searing thriller and an elegy for a collapsing society ... The Coen brothers have once again placed themselves at the very forefront of American cinema.[94]

A. O. Scott of The New York Times stated that:

For formalists –those moviegoers sent into raptures by tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design– it's pure heaven ... [it] leaves behind the jangled, stunned sensation of having witnessed a ruthless application of craft.[83]

Reviews[edit]

Top ten lists[edit]

The film appeared on more critics' top ten lists (354) than any other film of 2007, and was more critics' #1 film (90) than any other.[167] Some of the notable critics' placement of No Country for Old Men are:[168]

Accolades[edit]

"We're very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox."

–Co-director Joel Coen while accepting the award for Best Director at the 80th Academy Awards[171]

No Country for Old Men was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture. Additionally, Javier Bardem won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role; the Coen brothers won Achievement in Directing (Best Director) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Other nominations included Best Film Editing (the Coen brothers as Roderick Jaynes), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.[172]

Javier Bardem became the first Spanish actor to win an Oscar. "Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think I could do that and put one of the most horrible hair cuts in history on my head," Bardem said in his acceptance speech at the 80th Academy Awards. He dedicated the award to Spain and to his mother, the Spanish movie and television actress Pilar Bardem, who accompanied him to the ceremony. "Mama, this is for you. This is for your grandparents and your parents, Rafael and Matilde, this is for the comedians of Spain who like you have brought dignity and pride to our profession. This is for Spain and this is for all of you," said Bardem, speaking in rapid Spanish.[29]

While accepting the award for Best Director at the 80th Academy Awards, Joel Coen said that "Ethan and I have been making stories with movie cameras since we were kids", recalling a Super 8 film they made titled "Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go". "Honestly," he said, "what we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then. We're very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox."[171] It was only the second time in Oscar history that two individuals shared the directing honor (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins were the first, winning for 1961's West Side Story).[173]

The film was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, winning two at the 65th Golden Globe Awards.[174] Javier Bardem won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture and the Coen brothers won Best Screenplay – Motion Picture. The film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and Best Director (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen). Earlier in 2007 it was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.[175] The Screen Actors Guild gave a nomination nod to the cast for its "Outstanding Performance".[176] The film won top honors at the Directors Guild of America Awards for Joel and Ethan Coen. The film was nominated for nine BAFTAs in 2008 and won in three categories; Joel and Ethan Coen winning the award for Best Director, Roger Deakins winning for Best Cinematography and Javier Bardem winning for Best Supporting Actor.[177] It has also been awarded the David di Donatello for Best Foreign Film.

Consonant with the positive critical response, No Country for Old Men received widespread formal recognition from numerous North American critics' associations (New York Film Critics Circle, Toronto Film Critics Association, Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Online, Chicago Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, Austin Film Critics Association, and San Diego Film Critics Society).[178][179][180][181][182] The American Film Institute listed it as an AFI Movie of the Year for 2007, and the Australian Film Critics Association and Houston Film Critics Society both voted it best film of 2007.[8]

Criticism[edit]

A number of critics have submitted negative reviews of the film, citing that it lacks "soul" as well as a "central character" and a "climactic scene", has a sense of "hopelessness", a "disappointing finish" and is "too dependent on an arbitrarily manipulated plot." They also stated:

The Coens certainly honor the novelist's abiding preference for the mythical over the modern.... So what do we end up with? Well, as a thriller, No Country for Old Men is tight, pointed, and immune to the temptations of speed. I found myself in the same predicament with the film as with the book—approaching both in a state of rare excitement, yet willing myself, all too soon, to be more engaged than I actually was ... We gradually realize that No Country for Old Men is not telling a tale—the plot remains open-ended—but reinforcing the legend of a place, like a poem adding to an oral tradition. Texas is presented as a state of being, where good and evil circle doggedly around each other, and it just doesn't occur to Moss that he could take his black bag, catch a flight, and seek a world elsewhere. I was awed by the control of the movie, which seems as pressurized as Chigurh's murder machine, but after an hour and a quarter I felt that it had made its point and done all the damage it could. In the event, it crawls past the two-hour mark, and you sense that the Coens, like their unkillable villain, are prepared to go on forever.
–Critic Anthony Lane of The New Yorker[183]

You can't say it cuts to the chase. There was never anything to cut from to the chase. It's all chase, which means that it offers almost zero in character development. Each of the figures is given, a la standard thriller operating procedure, a single moral or psychological attribute and then acts in accordance to that principle and nothing else, without doubts, contradictions or ambivalence ... It's meant to be "ironic," with that big capital I. Instead it's unsatisfying, with a capital U. Nobody goes to the movies for the irony. They go for the satisfaction.
–Critic Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post[184]

As for the nihilism on display in No Country for Old Men, the collaboration between the Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy was a marriage made in heaven or, more likely, hell ... I will not describe the narrative in any great detail both because I would be perceived as spoiling the "fun" of discovering the many surprises for yourself, and because I cannot look at it and write about it in any other way than as an exercise in cosmic futility. Yet, I'm not sorry I saw it over a running time of 122 minutes, just about the length of time I'd like to spend on a quick in-and-out visit to hell.
–Critic Andrew Sarris of The Observer[185]

The movie's despair is unearned—it's far too dependent on an arbitrarily manipulated plot and some very old-fashioned junk mechanics ... There are absences in it that hollow out the movie's attempt at greatness.
–Critic David Denby of The New Yorker[62]

The Coen brothers bring their trademark daffiness to a tale of mayhem on the Texas border, but despite this, No Country for Old Men remains an emotional desert ... The film is full of pursuits, wanderings, endless journeying (I lost track of the number of close-ups of boots; the Coens seem more passionate about footwear than the people in them) ... It's the same soulless shaggy-dog caper decked out with pseudo profundities in which [the Coens] have always specialized ... Is it a masterpiece? Not even close.
–Critic Sukhdev Sandhu of The Daily Telegraph[186]

Despite [cinematographer Roger] Deakins' work and three smashing performances, murder for its own sake wears quickly on me and I found myself wanting to flee the theater, and the sooner the better ... There is no fascinating psychology here, no enlightenment, no reason to recommend it to viewers put off by gore. But if blood spurting, gushing, dripping, and oozing is your thing, you'll love it.
–Jean Lowerison of the San Diego Metropolitan Magazine[187]

The characters who populate the screen are not recognizable or particularly empathetic. While No Country for Old Men is compelling from beginning to end, the film lacks soul.
–Marcy Dermansky of Worldfilm.About.com[188]

On its way to becoming the decade's most overrated movie, No Country for Old Men has already been compared to everything from Greek tragedy to the Old Testament ... All theme and no life, the movie is like a skeleton without flesh, and it rattles around in the big canvas of ponderous Meaning it sets up for itself ... A masterpiece? If this really were the highest form of cinema possible, I sincerely wouldn't have loved the medium the way I have all these years.
– Fernando F. Croce of Cinepassion.org[189]

Under the influence of the later Tarantino school of visual splatter -- does blood really run so copiously across wood floors? -- it never achieves the earlier works' depth of droll relationships and character.
–Donald Levit of ReelTalkReviews.com[190]

There's pretty good build, excellent tension in spots, an engaging story, the arc heads up towards -- towards -- towards? And then resolution. Where did my climactic scene go? It's as if the Coens made a bet that they could do it, that they were brave enough to release a film without a climax. Or perhaps, stubbornly wanted to make a point. Apparently other critics are impressed with that point. Me? I'm not, I like my climax sandwiched strongly between my build and resolution.
–Review by Ross Anthony[191]

Most critics loved the movie, so mine is a minority report, a counterpoint to the flood of applause you'll hear from practically everyone else ... The quiet, the solitude, the tension, the photography, and the wit are all up against what I view as the story's uncertain intent; largely stereotyped caricatures; lack of a central character; muddled themes; melodramatic, pulp-fiction action; and disappointing finish ... Perhaps the movie is suggesting that we currently live in a hopeless, narcissistic, egotistical, self-consumed society? But is America any worse off in these regards than it ever was? Probably not ... I can accept happy endings, sad endings, surprise endings, twist endings, or dangling endings. But at the same time, I do expect some kind of ending –to leave the theater with something upon which to reflect.
–John J. Puccio of Movie Metropolis-MovieMet.com[192]

My problem is simply with [Anton] Chigurh. I have no idea what to make of him ... [He] is so damned insubstantial that he can't carry the weight of myth on his cartoon shoulders ... I was on the fence about him (and the movie) until his encounter with the gas station clerk. There's just something about the way [Javier] Bardem says "Friend-o" that makes me want to laugh rather than cringe.
–Christopher Long of Movie Metropolis-MovieMet.com[193]

Disputes[edit]

In September 2008, Tommy Lee Jones announced that he was going to sue Paramount Pictures for $10 million, which he claims he is owed for his work on the film. Jones claimed he was not paid the correct bonuses and had expenses wrongly deducted.[194]

In April 2010, Paramount, which distributed the 2007 best picture Oscar winner via its Paramount Vantage label, was forced to pay Jones a $15.0 million box office bonus when an arbitrator found the studio's lawyers had made an error in drafting Jones' deal to star in the movie.[195]

In December 2011, Paramount tentatively prevailed in a legal dispute with a Morgan Stanley-backed film finance entity that claims it was cheated out of profits due to the hefty payment made to Jones. Morgan Stanley's Marathon Funding, which had a multipicture financing deal with Paramount, later cried foul, claiming its arrangement entitled it to 25% of "net distribution revenue" from the movie. The case went to trial in front of L.A. Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney, who on Dec. 22 issued a tentative ruling siding with the studio. Mooney has found that because Paramount's relationship with Marathon was not a joint venture, the studio did not owe Marathon a fiduciary duty and thus the charge was not inappropriate.[196]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In October 2010, armed robbers in northeast Dallas tossed a coin in order to decide whether or not to kill a victim. As reported in the British tabloid Daily Mail and The Dallas Morning News, "an armed robbery victim has told how he was spared from being killed after his attackers re-enacted a murder scene from the film No Country for Old Men. Victor Nowzari was cowering on the floor after being kicked and beaten by two men who had forced their way into his home in Texas, where the film was set. As they prepared to leave, one of the robbers said he would flip a coin to decide if he should shoot the 22-year-old. Having won the toss, he was locked in a cupboard and told not to come out while the robbers fled. He said they stole a cell phone, $12, a guitar, computer speakers, glasses and an Adidas bag, into which they stuffed the rest of the loot."[197][198]
  • In February 2008, the New York Observer published a political cartoon by cartoonist R.J. Matson "that borrows heavily from the film's official poster. The left half of the image features the Republican heavy-weights George Bush senior, John McCain, and John Warner—the three of them grouped together above the film title. The right half of the image is filled by one of the film's taglines: 'You Can't Stop What's Coming.' The immediate message of the cartoon is clear: McCain is being told by Bush and Warner that he is too old for the job of president. The cartoon could also be read more broadly, however, as a critique of the policies of George Bush junior, who was president when this cartoon as well as McCarthy's novel and the Coen brothers' film first appeared. Indeed, any of the film's other taglines—'There Are No Clean Getaways,' 'There Are No Laws Left,' and 'Nothing You Fear ... Can Prepare You For Him'—could serve just as well to sum up the ways in which the Bush government responded to the September 11 terror attacks."[88][199]
  • Journalist William Russo commented on the old age of NBA's Boston Celtics players. In an article in March 2011, Russo stated that "Kevin Garnett compared himself and fellow Boston Celtics to characters in the classic caper film Ocean's 11, [where Garnett] immediately identified himself as the old expert (played by Carl Reiner)." He added, "in fact, there are many old movies [Garnett] might find himself emulating [including] No Country for Old Men: In rural Boston, welder and hunter Llewelyn Moss (Kevin Garnett) discovers the remains of playoff teams who have all killed each other in an exchange gone violently wrong. This puts the psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh (LeBron James, [of the Miami Heat]), on his trail. Meanwhile, the laconic Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Ray Allen) and his deputy (Paul Pierce) blithely oversee the investigation even as they struggle to face the sheer enormity of winning a second championship while the clock winds down."[206] Chris Bernucca adds that "in a league that quickly is becoming no country for old men, they are too something – determined, proud, stubborn, entitled – to simply move aside and let the young whippersnappers blow past them. Instead, they are trying to get everyone else to slow the heck down so they can keep up. You know that old adage about enjoying the journey? That's not the Celtics, who are just trying to survive the trek in one piece and get to their destination. They don't give a rat's asterisk whom they inconvenience, annoy or aggravate along the way."[207]
  • Spanish actor Carlos Areces spoofed the Anton Chigurh character in the 2009 film Spanish Movie.[209]
  • Spanish television New Year's special Es Bello Vivir (It's a wonderful life), which premiered on December 31, 2008, contained a sketch mimicking the "gas stop scene" between Anton Chigurh and the proprietor.[210]
  • The scene where Anton Chigurh stops at a Texaco gas station, flips a coin and asks the proprietor to 'call it' was mimicked in a number of online sketches, including an independently-produced parody titled No Football for Old Men, starring Michael Cornacchia, Kirk Zipfel, and Luiggi Debiasse as Referee Anton Chigurh.[211]

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Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]