Thursday, June 1, 2017

No Country For Old Men (2007) Once Upon A Time In Noirsville

It's amazing how many people are totally ignorant of the concept of what makes a Film Noir. Corporate Hollywood, with your endless sequels, your formulaic stories, your National Research Group sample demographic audience manipulations, you've done your job well.

A good percentage of certain modern audiences must be spoon fed dumbed down stories that are totally for their meager standards predictable. Just reading through the negative registered user IMDb reviews for this film from 2007-2008 one wonders if we are on an irreversible slide into predictable Blandsville. Some reviewers cannot seem to grasp the concept of any deviation from a nonlinear story, or they miss simple plot points and exclaim "plot hole".  It's discouraging, but I can at least still see an occasional creative flare burning at the end of that Blandsville Tunnel.

No Country For Old Men is a Neo Noir Masterpiece. It won Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture of the Year 2007, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Javier Bardem, Best Achievement in Directing Ethan Coen Joel and Coen, and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay for Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (Blood Simple (1984), Miller's Crossing (1990), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)), and based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name. The excellent cinematography was by Roger Deakins (1984 (1984), Barton Fink (1991), Fargo (1996), The Big Lebowski (1998), Blade Runner 2049 (2017)).  What little music in the film (there is an abundance of ambient sound in the film) was by Carter Burwell.

The film stars Tommy Lee Jones (Lonesome Dove TV Mini-Series (1989),The Fugitive (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994), Space Cowboys (2000)) as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, Josh Brolin (Private Eye TV Series (1987–1988), Gangster Squad (2013)) as Llewelyn Moss, Javier Bardem (El detective y la muerte (1994), Skyfall (2012)) as Anton Chigurh, Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire TV Series (2010–2014)) as Carla Jean Moss, and Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers (1994), Palmetto (1998), True Detective TV Series (2014– )) as Carson Wells, and Stephen Root (V.I. Warshawski (1991), Boardwalk Empire TV Series (2010–2014)) as the Houston business man who hires Chigurh, Wells, and the Mexicans. Gene Jones (The Hateful Eight (2015)) as Art the Texaco station owner.


The story, Terrell County, Texas, circa June 1980: We hear wind we hear thunder. We see edges. The edge of earth and sky. The edge of the horizon. The edge of shadows across the prairie. The edge of light and dark, the edge of good and evil and eventually the edge of life and death. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones), the son of a son of Texas lawmen sadly laments the increasing violence in West Texas and the crazy world in general.

Ed Tom Bell: I was sheriff of this county when I was twenty-five years old. Hard to believe. My grandfather was a lawman; father too. Me and him was sheriffs at the same time; him up in Plano and me out here. I think he's pretty proud of that. I know I was. Some of the old time sheriffs never even wore a gun. A lotta folks find that hard to believe. Jim Scarborough'd never carried one; that's the younger Jim. Gaston Boykins wouldn't wear one up in Comanche County. I always liked to hear about the oldtimers. Never missed a chance to do so. You can't help but compare yourself against the oldtimers. Can't help but wonder how they would have operated these times....

These times..... Over the county line, Anton Chigurh (Bardem), a cold, deadly and seriously demented paid assassin, strangles a deputy sheriff, escapes in his patrol car, and pulls over and kills a passing motorist with a captive bolt pistol. Chigurh then steals his car abandoning the patrol car.

Anton Chigurh (Bardem)

Chigurh, later stops for gas at a prairie Texaco pitstop, Art's Auto Supplies.  The hayseed owner Art is just a little too noisy for his own good, he notices that Chigurh's car plates are from Dallas, and mentions it in friendly chit chat. Chigurh is immediately on guard and confrontational. Chigurh spares the life of Art, after Art accepts Chigurh's weird challenge and correctly calls heads on Chigurh's coin flip.

Art (Gene Jones )

Art's gamble with Death

Anton Chigurh: What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss.
Art: Sir?
Anton Chigurh: The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss.
Art:  I don't know. I couldn't say.
[Chigurh flips a quarter from the change on the counter and covers it with his hand]
Anton Chigurh: Call it.
Art:  Call it?
Anton Chigurh: Yes.
Art:  For what?
Anton Chigurh:Just call it.
Art: Well, we need to know what we're calling it for here.
Anton Chigurh: You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair.
Art:  I didn't put nothin' up.
Anton Chigurh: Yes, you did. You've been putting it up your whole life you just didn't know it. You know what date is on this coin?
Art:  No.
Anton Chigurh: 1958. It's been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it's here. And it's either heads or tails. And you have to say. Call it.
Art:  Look, I need to know what I stand to win.
Anton Chigurh: Everything.
Art:  How's that?
Anton Chigurh: You stand to win everything. Call it.
Art:  Alright. Heads then.
[Chigurh removes his hand, revealing the coin is indeed heads]
Anton Chigurh: Well done.


Llewelyn (Brolin) a wild ass West Texas cowboy welder by trade is out doing some West Texas recreation, pronghorn (antelope) hunting with his Remington 700 Rifle. Lets pause here a moment and reflect. Nobody I knew in Montana hunted pronghorn for food (maybe in Texas it's different), not when there's abundant "good tasting" mule deer on the same prairies. Pronghorns are basically the next step up from gopher shooting. Pronghorns are a nuisance to ranchers, they roam about in huge herds and compete with cattle for range. You either hunt them for a trophy, for everyday sport, or to chase them off your particular corner of pasture.

If you are a conscientious hunter you'll collect the kill and haul it charitably to, as my old shitkicker buddy JB would call it. "the old folks home" on the Rez, they'll eat it. If you don't give a shit, you'll artistically arrange the carcass to look like it got hung up in a barbed wire fence (to elude the wrath of the game warden) and leave it for the buzzards.

Llewelyn drives his outfit out on the prairie, then used his stocking feet to roam about, and his binoculars to glass the countryside. He gets the drop on a herd of pronghorn, and lying over a boulder using his boots as a rest, scopes up his shot on a trophy buck. He makes his shot but it ain't a clean kill. The buck takes off and Llewelyn, after picking up his brass (a sure sign of a reloader) and puttin' on his boots, begins to track the buck's blood trail.

Picking up the brass


Lewelyn Moss
When that blood trail crosses the blood trail of, what turns out to be a pit bull, Llewelyn back tracks the dogs trail to the "OK corral", the site of a drug deal gone bad. Poking around the shot full of holes dead bodies and vehicles. in a sort of homage to Tuco's (Eli Wallach's) "Carriage Of The Spirits" sequence in The Good The Bad And The Ugly, he finds one man barely alive. The man asks for "agua" water, Llewelyn tells him he doesn't have any. Llewelyn finds a load of dope but finds no money. He goes back to the dying man who asked for water.

OK Corall


Llewelyn: You speak English? Where's the last guy? Ultimo hombre, last man standing, there must have been one, where did he go?... I reckon I'll go out the way I came in.

He spirals around and picks up boot tracks and another blood trail. He follows it to a dead man under the shade of a cedar tree and a leather satchel that contains two million dollars.


Llewelyn grabs the satchel and skedaddles. He heads home to the his trailer park, and hides the Heckler & Koch SP89 machine gun he grabbed at the drug deal gone bad in the crawl space under his mobile home. He takes the money and the nickel plated Colt .45 inside.

Ed Tom Bell: ....There was this boy I sent to the 'lectric chair at Huntsville Hill here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killt a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn't any passion to it. Told me that he'd been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he'd do it again. Said he knew he was going to hell. "Be there in about fifteen minutes". I don't know what to make of that. I sure don't. The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure. It's not that I'm afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don't want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don't understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He'd have to say, "O.K., I'll be part of this world."

Back at the Moss's mobile home, after a so far sleepless night, Llewelyn decides to go back out to the "OK Corral" and bring that suffering Mexican some water. Here is the classic dumb ass, shoulda knowed better, move that fully plants this into Classic Noir territory.

"Well then I'll tell her myself."

Carla Jean Moss: Llewelyn?
Llewelyn Moss: Yeah?
Carla Jean Moss: What are you doing, baby?
Llewelyn Moss: I'm going out.
Carla Jean Moss: Going where?
Llewelyn Moss: There's something I forgot to do, but I'll be back.
Carla Jean Moss: And what are you going to do?
Llewelyn Moss: I'm fixin' to do something dumber than hell, but I'm going anyways.

Llewelyn Moss: If I don't come back, tell mother I love her.
Carla Jean Moss: Your mother's dead, Llewelyn.
Llewelyn Moss: Well then I'll tell her myself.

Of course the Mexican is dead and some of his companeros are hanging around waiting. Llewelyn a Viet Vet uses his wits and barely escapes by jumping into the Rio Grande. Llewelyn sends his wife off to her mother's while he heads West to EL Paso, the nearest airport.

The Houston businessman/drug lord (Root) hires Chigurh to recover his money and go after Llewelyn.

Transponder receiver 

Breaking bad Breaking Rogue
 Night, back at the OK Corral's bloated carcasses, Chigurh, and two of the drug lord associates investigate the carnage.

Mustache: These are some ripe petunias

Chigurh, after picking up an automatic off of one of the dead bodies, breaks rogue killing the two associates, grabs the transponder receiver, and sets out after the cash. The businessman/drug lord then hires another hit man, Carson Wells (Harrelson), to now go after Chigurh, With Chigurh, Wells the Mexican drug cartel and eventually Sheriff Bell all after the stolen loot (which by the way has a transponder hidden in one of the bundles of hundred dollar bills), everything spirals quickly out of control into Noirsville.


Carla Jean Moss (Kelly Macdonald)

All performances are spot on. Jones' excellent performance as Bell the a laconic, righteous, good ol' boy sheriff is no doubt informed by his native of San Saba, Texas upbringing. Brolin also has some Texas roots, his mother Jane Cameron (Agee), a Texas-born wildlife activist. He's equally good as the overly optimistic can do cowboy who's bitten a bit more off than he can chew. Bardem is chill inducing as the slow, deliberate, somewhat goofy looking deadpan sociopath. He has an arresting presence, in this performance. I'm reminded again of The Good The Bad And The Ugly and Lee Van Cleef's beady-eyed sneer announcing "Death on a Horse" is here, too bad Bardem hasn't been utilized more in these types of roles. It says in his IMDb bio that he didn't want to be typecast (as a brawny sex symbol in the film Jamón, Jamón (1992) so I'd assume he'd feel the same about being typecast as a "crazier than a shit house rat" sociopath. Harrelson as the cocky, duded up, rival assassin has a smaller part but plays it well as does the rest of the cast.

The cinematography comprises beautiful sequences, one striking one is of a herd of pronghorn and the approaching edge of the shadow of a thunderhead blowing across the prairie. The films extensive use of ambient sound combined with this excellent cinematography heightens your awareness be it either footsteps across the prairie, a pickup tailgate clanking open, ambient sounds in roadside filling station, a truck rattling over the backcountry, a trailer house TV, a creaky floored old hotel, or an eerie surreal awakening on the stone piazza steps at dawn in a Mexican bordertown to the sound of a mariachi band. The editing is masterful.

There's only one false note and it's minor, it a bit of dialog from Bell, when he sees the burning car he exclaims that he "didn't think a car would burn like that", hell, when a car catches fire it, it goes out of control quick, anyone especially law enforcement would have seen one in the course of duty.

No Country For Old Men can take it's place in the Pantheon of Great Film Soleil Western Neo Noirs with Bad Day At Black Rock, Inferno,  In Cold BloodBring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia (1974), The Killer Inside Me (1976), Blood Simple (1984), Paris, Texas (1984), Kill Me Again (1989), The Hot Spot (1990), The Wrong Man (1993), and  Mulholland Falls (1996). Screencaps are from the Miramax 2008 DVD, Bravo! 10/10.


Loretta Bell: How'd you sleep?
Ed Tom Bell: I don't know. Had dreams.
Loretta Bell: Well you got time for 'em now. Anythin' interesting?
Ed Tom Bell: They always is to the party concerned.
Loretta Bell: Ed Tom, I'll be polite.
Ed Tom Bell: Alright then. Two of 'em. Both had my father in 'em . It's peculiar. I'm older now then he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he's the younger man. Anyway, first one I don't remember too well but it was about meeting him in town somewhere, he's gonna give me some money. I think I lost it. The second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin' through the mountains of a night. Goin' through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin'. Never said nothin' goin' by. He just rode on past... and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin' fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. 'Bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up...

1 comment:

  1. popcornflix - The message of this film is that there is no symmetry to life. What goes around does not come around. The fall of the coin has no bearing on the way the cookie crumbles. There is no right or wrong to the fates of men. No justice. Opportunities seized may lead on to fortune, but they could just as well lead on to dusty death. Only children expect things to be fair. As things once were they need no longer be. Now that IMDb has decided to list reviews by date there is a slightly increased possibility that this effort will be read by someone. Performance reviews are absolutely not read by me for helpfulness, but for interest and entertainment.
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