No Country for Old Men (2007)
March 19, 2019 4:53 PM - Subscribe

It’s the early 1980s, and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell has presided over his small south Texas border county for decades. In all that time he has sent only one criminal to death row in and is otherwise secure in his belief that “it takes very little to govern good people.” Unbeknownst to Bell, however, a local welder named Llewellyn Moss has, while out hunting near the Rio Grande, stumbled across the bodies of a half dozen drug runners who have killed each other off during a deal gone bad.
posted by growabrain (34 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sailing To Byzantium by William Butler Yeats
posted by growabrain at 5:35 PM on March 19


My big takeaway from this movie was that Javier Bardem can act really well. Anton Chigurh remains to this day the only cinematic villain that really frightened me to my bones*.

That shot where Woody Harrelson's character is returning to the hotel and walking up the stairs only to see Chigurh turn the corner behind him out of focus is so chilling to me, so absolutely mesmerizing that I had a hard time continuing to watch.

*Well, maybe The Thing, but it's really close.
posted by Sphinx at 6:28 PM on March 19 [2 favorites]


That scene with Brolin waiting as Bardem is outside his door is definitely once of the most tense experiences I've had in a theater.
posted by acidnova at 6:50 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine had a reading of this movie that I really enjoy, although it's only a partial description of the movie's thematic machinery. He interpreted it as, in part, a piece of Menippean satire. Kind of central to this reading is that Chigurh isn't Mexican, since indeed the only evidence as to his provenance is his accent, which is Bardem's, which is a Spanish accent. In that light you have Chigurh as a representative of Old Europe and its colonial ambitions, in which an unnatural order (one of extraction of wealth and labor) is only sustained by unimaginable brutality. It lingers as a specter in the Americas that continues to do terrible damage even if in a comparatively reduced capacity. In Bell and Llewelyn you have two different facets of how the US has inherited, and continues to react to, that legacy. Llewelyn, a naive everyman, stands to profit in the short term from it, although it's ultimately a fatal curse for him. Bell is another in a long line of American lawmen who is unprepared to understand or fight that brutality, because it is so engrained in the US, in Mexico, and in their relationship to each other, that he lacks the ability to even see it for what it is.

Again, it's a partial explanation, because there are plenty of plot points and character motivations that aren't neatly accounted for in that reading, but any interesting work defies a totalizing explanation, so I don't think that's a count against this particular reading.
posted by invitapriore at 6:55 PM on March 19 [14 favorites]


Also, yeah, that scene (with Chigurh unscrewing the lightbulb) is such a perfect confluence of excellent sound design, cinematography, directing and acting. I still can hardly watch it even though I know what happens.
posted by invitapriore at 6:56 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Bell is another in a long line of American lawmen who is unprepared to understand or fight that brutality, because it is so engrained in the US, in Mexico, and in their relationship to each other, that he lacks the ability to even see it for what it is.

Also, to add a little that I meant to say to this, his lack of ability to "see" what he's facing is kind of hilariously literal in the movie: even when he's within feet of Chigurh in the hotel-room-cum-crime-scene, he never manages to lay eyes on him. And, a part of not seeing or comprehending that evil is not seeing or comprehending his role in propping it up: merely attempting to attack the symptoms of a deeper pathology has him participating in a war of escalating violence that can't, won't be halted by the agents involved, given the extremely narrow breadth of their perspective.
posted by invitapriore at 7:09 PM on March 19


I may be the only person who was completely unimpressed by Chigurh. The character seemed ridiculous to me, like a horror movie slasher taken out of his context.

Maybe it would have worked better for me if I'd seen it on the big screen, but on my television, I got no sense of menace.

It's odd. Usually, even if I disagree with the assessments of others, I can see where they're coming from. This time, I just don't. I'm clearly missing something.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 7:51 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


There is special magic of being in a full theater that's holding its collective breath. That menace was very present.
posted by acidnova at 8:10 PM on March 19 [5 favorites]


Not the only one, Tabitha. Thought both the movie and Bardem's performance vastly overrated.
posted by praemunire at 11:16 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


even when he's within feet of Chigurh in the hotel-room-cum-crime-scene, he never manages to lay eyes on him.

My read of that scene was more that the sheriff saw that someone was in the hotel room, but chose not to engage it out of fear. He resigned shortly after that.
posted by cardboard at 4:03 AM on March 20 [5 favorites]


About halfway through this movie I was thinking this was the best movie I'd seen in a long time. By the end, though, I thought it had kind of disappeared up its own ass through self-importance, and what felt like endless meaningless blathering from Tommy Lee Jones' empty hat cop and the boring adventures of Bardem's magical death ninja. For me at least, it goes beyond redemption

Some great scenes though!
posted by fleacircus at 4:41 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I hated this movie.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:02 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I can accept the Coen Bros. doing serious movies with occasional comic or absurd aspects, just as I like their comedy movies with serious aspects. But, despite its often grim tone, I can't get over the "magical death ninja" hauling around a captive bold pistol with an attached air tank.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:42 AM on March 20


It is an extremely stupid murder weapon.

Still a reasonably decent movie, though.
posted by kyrademon at 8:56 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


"That scene with Brolin waiting as Bardem is outside his door is definitely once of the most tense experiences I've had in a theater."

Carter Burwell (the Coen's long-time music collaborator) has a fantastic page about No Country for Old Men. At the very bottom is this fantastic exchange:
"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 (meant to be the scrape of a chair, Mr. Berkey said). 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.

“That was an experiment in what we called the edge of perception,” Mr. Lievsay said. “Ethan especially kept asking us to turn it lower and lower.”

Ethan Coen said, “Josh’s character is straining to hear, and you want to be in his point of view, likewise straining to hear.” The effect can be lost, he conceded, “if it’s a louder crowd and the room is lousy.”

Joel Coen interjected, “If it’s a loud crowd at that point, the film isn’t working anyway.”
[source]

I love love love the music on the credits - a Burwell original named Blood Trails - and years ago it wasn't available anywhere. For the first time in my life I learned how to rip the audio from a DVD just so I could have a copy in my MP3 library and listen to it at my leisure. The way it transitions from the ticking of the clock in the last scene in the movie (where we watch Ed Tom Bell struggle with the meaning of his dream and his future) to the slow methodical beat of the music is just entrancing, and yet another example of listening closely. There's nothing about the music in this movie that's anything other than subtle.
posted by komara at 9:22 AM on March 20 [4 favorites]


Tough crowd
posted by Flashman at 9:56 AM on March 20 [6 favorites]


I loved this movie.
posted by valkane at 9:56 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


You can read this movie a bunch of different ways, which explains my affinity for it.

I've always been fond of looking at it like a kind of remake of "The Seventh Seal". Ed Tom Bell is the knight facing death - Anton Chigurh is nearly as iconic and just as unstoppable - but he fails to save the young couple, and when he has the opportunity to actually confront death, he lacks the courage and stands down. And then retires with his shame.

I think it's one of the finest films of this century.
posted by rocketman at 10:31 AM on March 20 [7 favorites]


I watched it again a couple of years ago and I loved it as much the second time as the first.

I don't think Chigurh is an entirely implausible death ninja. He is very, very good at some things, but he doesn't expect anyone to run a stop sign.

"It is an extremely stupid murder weapon."

I disagree. No one recognizes it for what it is and the few who may will assume it's to be used for its intended purpose. He can go through a border checkpoint and no one will bat an eye. Victims won't expect it; and it leaves what misleadingly appears to be a small caliber bullet wound to the skull. If he's not in a position to use it, he has or can get guns.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:47 PM on March 20 [6 favorites]


Sure. It's also unwieldy, impossible to hide, difficult to use, and odd enough to be memorable.
posted by kyrademon at 3:14 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


I need to see this movie again; I watched it years ago with my wife & brother-in-law. All of us are Coen fans in general, but this movie got poor reactions from them, while I was entranced; I want to go back without the distraction of two other people in the room and try to understand what I connected with that they didn't.

Anyways, a roundup of some of the readings of the political/sociological/other readings of the film.
posted by nubs at 3:39 PM on March 20


It's also unwieldy, impossible to hide, difficult to use, and odd enough to be memorable.

This also pretty much describes the silenced shotgun he uses as well, but damned if it didn’t prove effective.
posted by valkane at 3:44 PM on March 20


IIRC, most of his murdering was done in the presence of no one but his victims. And even carrying around a tank of compressed air, he wasn't very memorable.

I found it a deconstruction of all the ways we mythologize crime and murder. Chigurh was so uncharismatic that -- for the audience and only the audience -- he perversely loops back around into the charisma of palpable screen presence. But, within the narrative, he came with about as much fanfare as a fall and broken neck in the shower, and with as much significance.

Likewise, the archetypes we're given to root for -- the kindly plodding sheriff, the down-on-his-luck everyman come into an illicit windfall, his entirely blameless girlfriend swept up in the deadly mess, and an experienced hitman/fixer with a code or a conscience -- each of these is usually glamorized in some way in genre, and the film early on leads us to believe its story is going to follow those genre conventions.

But it doesn't. Our hero and antihero are proven to have feet of clay, our plucky everyman proves outmatched and foolish, his sweet and innocent girlfriend dies in terror...and even the unstoppable killing machine is brought low by a mundane automobile accident. None of this is a thrilling tale of human spirit. It's just sad and dumb.

As is true most of the time one person kills another.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:13 PM on March 20 [12 favorites]


I liked the movie and the book (and have seen it more than once, which I rarely do). It's not perfect, but many of the scenes are transfixing, and the acting is very good.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on March 21


It's also unwieldy, impossible to hide, difficult to use, and odd enough to be memorable.

Well, not memorable to anyone who's seen it in action. They don't remember anything.

It's not like he walks up to someone in the middle of a crowd, pops them in the head with it, then tries to escape.
posted by Naberius at 12:05 PM on March 21


I love the film and have seen it 8 or 9 times. I've also read the book multiple times and the screenplay a few times. I certainly think the film will go down as one of the best of the 21st century and I think it's the Coens' finest work (and I am a huge fan of their other films).

One interesting thing for me is that I read the book first and found it underwritten. I then read the script and found it even more sparse, but somehow it still really worked. When I reread the book, I found it overwritten having read the script.

There are very few differences between the book and film, but one that's always stood out to me is that when Moss awakens and decides to return to the trucks, in the book, he says something like "Are you dead out there? Hell no, you ain't." referring to a the man in the truck. The reader realizes his error is that he left a living witness. In the film, I never get the impression that he's thinking "living witness" and as a result, I find his wanting to bring him water somewhat unbelievable. I'm curious why others think he woke and returned.

I absolutely love the character Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) and think he's beautifully played. I still do not get his joke that is in both the book and the movie: "I counted the floors from the outside. One's missing."

I always assumed that it meant the floor the business is being transacted on is "unlabeled" -- but that wouldn't mean there's one missing, but there's one extra. Anyone else understand it?
posted by dobbs at 3:20 PM on March 22


"I still do not get his joke that is in both the book and the movie: "I counted the floors from the outside. One's missing.""

Most tall buildings in the US don't have a 13th floor out of superstition.
posted by komara at 3:31 PM on March 22


Most tall buildings in the US don't have a 13th floor out of superstition.

Yes, that occurred to me but doesn't seem like something McCarthy would make a joke about. It's not really "of his world," so to speak. Further, if that were the case, it would seem odd to be something the Coens felt necessary to include in the film.

You may be correct; it just seemed odd to me.
posted by dobbs at 3:40 PM on March 22


I caught this on the big screen! I went in expecting a comedy, as were my friends. We left stunned.
posted by Pronoiac at 12:54 AM on March 24


I've only seen it once, in theaters during its original run. I liked it and thought it was quite good and thought provoking.

My strongest memory of it, however, is how when the end credits popped up, a fellow audience member in front of me exclaimed loudly, "What a crock of SHIT!" Somehow that made me like the movie more in retrospect.
posted by skynxnex at 11:42 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


"I may be the only person who was completely unimpressed by Chigurh. The character seemed ridiculous to me, like a horror movie slasher taken out of his context. "

Naw not at all and I've found others before who also weren't crazy about this movie or that character. He had a goofy haircut, his lines made him hard to take seriously, like someone who just binged on some surface level nihilism and and consequentialism on wikipedia and mistakes tiresome self-important philosophizing as worthwhile wisdom to share. Like, if I met the dude in a social situation, we'd be making fun of him as soon as he walks away. Sure, in the movie he gets to kill everyone all slick and cool, but he still reads to me more like an irritating web commenter than a menacing force.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:18 PM on March 25


"Sure, in the movie he gets to kill everyone all slick and cool, but he still reads to me more like an irritating web commenter than a menacing force."

Well, I find the idea of a web commenter getting to kill everyone all slick and cool terrifying.

I wrote that as a joke, but it's not really a joke, is it? Given current events.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:12 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Most tall buildings in the US don't have a 13th floor out of superstition.

Yes, that occurred to me but doesn't seem like something McCarthy would make a joke about. It's not really "of his world," so to speak. Further, if that were the case, it would seem odd to be something the Coens felt necessary to include in the film.


Have you read Suttree? It's full of deadpan humor. I think the best example is the exchange between Harrogate and the chemist:
It was a grayhaired and avuncular apothecary who leaned not unkindly down from his high pulpit. Enormous fans stirred overhead, shifting the reek of nostrums and purgatives. Beyond the counter ranged carboys and galleypots and stainedglass jars of chemic and cottonmouthed bottles cold and replete with their particolored pills. Harrogate's chin rested just at the cool stone trestle and his eyes took in this alchemical scene with a twinge of old familiarity for which he could not account.
May I help you? said the scientist, his hands holding each other.
I need me some strychnine, said Harrogate.
You need some what?
Strychnine. You know what it is dont ye?
Yes, said the chemist.
I need me about a good cupful I reckon.
Are you going to drink it here or take it with you?
Shit fire I aint goin to drink it. It's poisoner'n hell.
It's for your grandmother.
No, said Harrogate, craning his neck suspectly. She's done dead.
The chemist tore off a piece of paper from a pad and poised with his pen. Just let me have the name of the person or persons you intend to poison, he said. We're required to keep records.
Suspecting japery, Harrogate grinned an uneasy grin. Listen, he said. You know about these here bats?
Oh yes indeed.
Well, that's what it's for. I dont care to tell you because they aint nobody else but me could figure out the rest of it.
I'm sure that's true, the chemist said.
I didnt bring nothin to fetch it in. You got a jar of some kind?
How old are you? said the chemist.
I'm twenty-one.
No you're not.
What'd you ast me for then?
The chemist removed his glasses and closed his eyes and pinched l he bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He donned I he spectacles again and looked down at Harrogate. He was still there. I can't sell strychnine to minors, he said. Nor to folk of other than right mind. It's against the law.
Well, said Harrogate. That's up to you.
Yes, said the chemist.
I think that kind of humor really appeals to the Coens. See for example the exchange in Raising Arizona about a having balloons that blow up in funny shapes ("Not unless you think round's funny.") It took me a dozen viewings to realize why I liked Miller's Crossing so much and that's because it's a serious movie full of humorous lines and it's basically daring you to laugh at them. I think Wells' joke about a missing floor is in line with both McCarthy's and the Coens' sensibilities.
posted by komara at 9:43 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I also found Chigurh to be maybe the most uninteresting part of the movie contra his reputation, even in light of the fact that he's another instance of an archetype the Coens have been building for a while, that of the nearly supernaturally stone-cold and effective murder machine, as in Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, and Fargo if you squint. But, something interesting that someone pointed out to me a few years ago: if you, as viewer, see Chigurh as a manifestation of the cold hand of fate, then you've bought into the mythology that that character created for himself. I thought about that some more and came to feel that he spends a good long time in his life, probably much longer than a lot of people manage, never having to face any challenge to his constructed notion of implacable invulnerability, but it ends up being the case that he only has the luxury of thinking so because chance has, by no action of his own, let him proceed in his evils mostly unimpeded. At the end of the movie, that same immutable force of probability that he believes himself to be an avatar of strips him of any favored status. As I read it, the self-styled Supreme of any age only manage to claim that status by virtue of circumstance, and (again, like Old Europe) they inevitably reify that chance advantage and claim it as a basic quality of their own, but with time it inevitably must become clear that they were only ever benefitting from the luck of the draw.
posted by invitapriore at 6:27 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


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