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No Country for Old Men

The Latest Coen Brothers Film — and their Most Critically Acclaimed to Date

No Country for Old Men
The Coen Brothers twice announced plans to adapt novels into films, only to abandon them. Elmore Leonard's "Cuba Libre" and James Dickey's "To the White Sea" sounded like good fits for Joel and Ethan Coen, models of the sort of lean, propulsive storytelling that define their best films: 1984's "Blood Simple," 1990's "Miller's Crossing," 1991's "Barton Fink," 1996's "Fargo" and 2001's "The Man Who Wasn't There."

Obviously, the Coens wanted to see what they could bring to a popular, yet literary, novel. We can be glad they didn't give up on the idea, because "No Country for Old Men," based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, is their best film in years, maybe their best film ever, and almost certainly the best film of 2007.

It returns them to the hard, heat-scorched Texas of "Blood Simple" but without any of the smarty-pants attitude and ironic, air-conditioned distancing of their early years as filmmakers. This time, they sweat it out along with their characters.

"No Country for Old Men" is fundamentally a chase movie, but there is nothing hurried about it. Like its protagonist Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) -- who sits out for a lengthy stretch -- it doesn't rush into anything, including conversation.

Like its other protagonist Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who sets "this mess" in motion by happening upon a drug deal gone bad and appropriating the $2.4 million left behind amid the blood and bodies, it is calculating and sure of itself.

And like its antagonist, assassin Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), it is relentless and unpredictable. "No Country" is set in the 1980s, when the drug trade threatened to make the Wild West wild again. A third-generation lawman, Bell is all too familiar with the traditional means and motives of killing and bloodshed, but now finds himself out of his time and element: "The crime you see now, it's hard to take its measure," he says to a deputy, speaking generally. One can't help but wonder how Bell would cope with rap beefs that end in murder or schoolyard slaughter.

"No Country For Old Men" is more violent than any movie that the Coens have ever made. Its images, unlike the graphic grabbers that arrive nearly every weekend with he latest torture-horror exploiter, are not easily filed away and forgotten. It will be a long time before I get the picture of Anton doing some self-surgery out of my troubled mind.

Yet it is also one of the most beautiful movies in recent memory, benefiting from the masterful, sun-soaked cinematography of the Coens' usual director of photography, Roger Deakins -- who, with this, "In the Valley of Elah" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" could legitimately take up three of the five nominations in his Oscar category. It also has a sense of composition so striking that when it is released on DVD, you are likely to hit pause just to admire the artistry. (T. Lawson, Freep.com)

No Country for Old Men

Thu & Fri February 28 & 29, 2008, 7:00 & 9:30, Muenzinger Auditorium

USA, in English, Color, 122 min, Rated R for strong graphic violence and some language., 2.35 : 1 • official site

recommend

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