"No Country For Old Men"; a film review by Gary Chew
My father had a close friend he worked with when I was little; a good ol' boy from the Southern Plains of the USA named Floyd. He told silly stories. One day my dad's pal said, "You know Gary, there was this old farmer one time who lost his mule one day, and when the farmer finally found him, he just found him all at once."
That'll be your basic kind of talk in Ethan and Joel Coen's new film, "No Country For Old Men." Since I'm an old man myself, I sort got a kick out of this picture even though the Coen brothers must of had a bigger than usual budget for fake blood to make this gruff, macho tale from a novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy; published in 2005.
Tommy Lee Jones heads a cast of some of the meanest damn contemporary 'cowboys' you'll ever find along the Rio Grande in west Texas. And I hear they come mighty mean in that neck o' the woods.
Tommy Lee is the Sheriff of Terrance County. His name is Ed Tom Bell. (They don't get any better than that handle.) Spanish film actor, Javier Bardem (speaking English) is Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic killer who does his job real good. Josh Brolin (just now in "American Gangster," too) plays Lewellyn Moss, a Viet Nam vet who just wants to get ahead---for himself and his pretty wife, Clara Jean. She's played like a delicate butterfly on the Pecos by Kelly McDonald. Woody Harrelson is seen less often, but memorably, doing the role of Carson Wells. Carson is a hotshot, retired Colonel out to protect his client, an unhappy Dallas businessman some how connected to an event described in the next two paragraphs.
Lewellyn is out shooting antelope one afternoon near the Rio Grande when he comes up on (all at once) several dead men and dogs just lying in the hot sun around some old dusty pickups. There's a whole shitload of what Tommy Lee later reckons is brown Mexican dope (the novel has it as heroin). No money around the bodies and vehicles. (vuh'HEE-hick-kuhls). But Mr. Moss, being a smart Texan, figures there has to be some money somewhere around the grisly crime scene.
Yip, not more than a stone's throw from there under the only two trees in sight lies a very dead hombre with a large satchel of one-hundred-dollar bills stacked in two-thousand-dollar bundles. The bag is chock plumb full of greenbacks. Over two mil worth.
Now, we got the engine for this nasty little story by Mr. McCarthy; screenplay by the Coens. Chigurh is out to kill Lewellyn for all that money. Weapons Chigurh uses are a silenced shotgun and an air tank with hose and nozzle that's normally used to kill cattle in a slaughterhouse. Chigurh prefers humans to cows, we find. Can't forget to mention that Chigurh also uses the handcuffs on his wrists to throttle, from behind, a hapless deputy in an early death scene of "Old Men."
Bardem plays Chigurh without emotion. He only reveals he's human when in pain after one of the several wounds he sustains in the film. His eyes bug and fixate as he drives his vehicle around west Texas seeking Lewellyn and the money from the soured drug deal.
Brolin's laconic Lewellyn is very good too. A tough man with a sweet, malleable yet strong wife. He won't back down, even for a real spook of a killer like Anton.
Now to Tommy Lee. It's Tommy Lee alright, but with even more of a down home Texas accent and grammatical errors thrown in here and there. Ed Tom is a smart old guy, having just about seen it all as a sheriff for so many years along the border. However, it's plain Sheriff Bell's been thinking quite a bit about hanging up the spurs even if he doesn't wear any. Ed Tom talks about not being sheriff any more with his wife, Loretta (Tess Harper), in a moving little scene at the breakfast table.
Mixed in with all the bloodletting, the Coens push those buttons that elicit your laissez-faire chuckles they stimulate so well. We can't forget "Blood Simple." I first saw that one in a town called Tulsa. Good movie. Actually, better than this one I'm talking about.
"No Country For Old Men" moves well in its quiet, random sort of way. It will keep you focused on what's going on, but toward the finish, unravels some with too little resolution and clarity. More often than not, the Coens (and McCarthy too) keep things vague about what happens with just a skosh of David Lynch's hankering to never let things get too obvious.
In one late scene, it's not clear whether Chigurh kills someone in the film or just walks away. One must opine who actually winds up with the money and the dope. Maybe the Coens and Lynch enjoy folks chatting about what happens in their films. It's not a bad idea, seems to me. I've certainly chatted about Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" with friends many times.
Another scene that deserves mention is when Ed Tom drops by an old codger's place out in the sticks. The old guy (Ellis) is in a wheelchair and played spot on by Barry Corbin. He, like Tommy Lee, is a native Texan. Since I used to live in Corpus, I can tell you, these accents are real, people.
What's also real are a couple of old ladies who don't put up with any BS at their jobs in this movie. Even Chigurh is verbally fended off by one of these God-fearing women. I guess he doesn't want to kill her for some reason. The chuckles are aplenty when this occurs. A couple of 'gents' in the movie house were even laughing when people are blown away in the film. I'm not sure what that was all about.
I am glad to say though, since I was a resident of Corpus Christi, Texas in 1980 (the year "Old Men" was to have taken place), it's real nice not to have ever met anybody in that Gulf Coast town like the characters in this film.
But just think how "Old Men" would've played with some more good ol' boys in the cast like, Robert Duvall, Strother Martin, Morgan Woodward and that late-great Oscar winner from up Osage County way in Pawhuska.
Ben Johnson always made me think about Floyd.
"No Country For Old Men" preview.