No Country For Old Men: A Coen Brothers Film

By James Calemine

This 2007 Coen Brothers film was adapted from the Pulitzer-Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 book, No Country For Old Men. For the most part, Joel & Ethan Coen adhere to the book’s dialogue, characters and plot. When an interviewer asked Joel Coen why they chose this book, he answered: “Why not start with Cormac? Why not start with the best?”

The film won an Oscar in 2008 for Best Motion Picture of the Year as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem). Ethan Coen revealed McCarthy’s involvement in the film: “We had no contact at all with Cormac while we were writing it; only when we were filming. As it happens we shot a lot of it in west Texas, where the novel takes place, but we also shot some of it in New Mexico, because it was cheaper. Cormac lives down there, so he visited the set a couple of times. But they really were just social visits.’

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunting antelope near the Rio Grande when he stumbles upon dead drug dealers, shot out trucks and $2 million dollars in cash. Moss decides to take the suitcase full of cash, but he leaves the heroin behind. From that point on–his life becomes a series of terrible misunderstandings.

An ex-Special Forces agent Anton Chigurh (Bardem) is hired to retrieve the money and kill Moss. Few meet the evil-incarnate Chigurh and live. The West Texas landscapes, gas stations, cars and home fit the story’s year of 1980. It’s only the beginning of the massive drug trade at the time on the border. Tommy Lee Jones plays Sheriff Tom Bell who realizes he’s in over his head concerning the murderous drug traffickers and considers retiring.

Bell narrates the story. The Sheriff becomes more hesitant and fearful in his later years and does not want to live “where a man must put his soul at hazard”. Bardem shines in the film as the ruthless killer. The coin-flipping scene in a rural gas station proves one of the film’s most compelling. The close-to-the-bone dialogue slices to the point.

Woody Harrelson’s character (Carson Wells) tells Moss in a Mexican hospital to give up the money, which Moss hesitates at first. Wells (who worked with Chigurh in the Special Forces) explains what Moss is up against when he wants to make a deal with the killer:

“You can’t make a deal with him. Let me say it again. Even if you gave him the money he’d still kill you. There’s no one alive on this planet that’s ever had even a cross word with him. They’re all dead. These are not good odds. He’s a peculiar man. You could even say he has principles that transcend money or drugs or anything like that…”

Later Chigurh traps Wells in his hotel room, and with a shotgun pointed at him he says to his old associate: “You’ve been giving up things for years to get here. I don’t think I even understood that. How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life? How did you let yourself get in this situation?”

The story does not end in a Hollywood-formula fashion. In typical McCarthy style, events in life do not always end well but in a disturbing meat-hook reality. Not only is this no country for old men in such a business–it’s no country for anyone. The final scene was filmed in one take. This tale counts as an American classic…

Read my Cormac McCarthy story in Insured Beyond The Grave Vol. 2.

www.jamescalemine.com

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