Stare into the stony face of Death with ‘No Country’

Sometimes the scariest monsters are the ones that look just like us.

Meet Death. You can call him Anton Chigurh.

While his purpose in No Country For Old Men might be that of a killer on the chase, viciously hunting down a man stupid enough to take his money, Chigurh (Javier Bardem) might just as well be Death himself.

From the outside, he doesn’t look like anything special. He is a large, pale man of Mexican descent, though his English is quite flawless and almost absent of any accent whatsoever. He carries himself with no precautious reassurance, holds his head no higher or lower than any of the rest of us. He dresses in clothes that wouldn’t cause you to look twice on a street – in fact, don’t you have a jacket similar to the one he’s wearing?

Perhaps the only thing that stands out from Chigurh is the oxygen tank he carries around with a short tube that runs from the tank to a pneumatic prod made for slaughtering cattle. His smile, one of warmth and kindness, is reassuring as he puts the end of the prod to your forehead, presses the button and – blackness.

With his calmly searching eyes and his enlightened rationalism, Chigurh is nothing short of the Angel of Death to the souls of No Country For Old Men.

The Coen Brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) dive into the precipitous decline of man, exploring the darkest corners of the post-modern era’s mediation (and often, obsession) with the very core of violence in America. They do so with monsters like Anton Chigurh.

Monsters who look like us. Monsters who talk just like us. Monsters who are just like us.

It is this awareness of evil in everyday man that makes Chigurh the scariest monster of all. Like Dr. Hannibal Lector or American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, Chigurh could very well be a man you pass by in the supermarket, your local bank teller or even your next-door neighbor. And it is this searing analysis of a profound nihilism and utter hopelessness that makes the Coen’s newest film, No Country For Old Men, a mesmerizing return to their acclaimed brutal style of filmmaking and easily one of the best films of the year.

Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men is the story of three men’s pursuits. There is Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who stumbles across a heroin deal gone wrong (illustrated graphically by dead bodies slain across the open plains near the Rio Grande) and walks away with an abandoned case containing $2 million.

Hot on his trail is the nightmarishly haunting Chigurh who was a hired gun in the heroin exchange – a man who will stop at nothing to get his money back and will seek retribution for those who have inconvenienced him along the way.

Finally, we meet Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a small-town man who speaks with such old-school ease that you’re never quite sure if he’s really that profound or simply playing you. He is a man who is forced to face the evils he’s always known existed and seeks to help Moss before he becomes another victim in Chigurh’s killing spree.

No Country is an acute suspense thriller with the hidden undertones of a modern-day western. It’s an eerily melancholy and ambitiously impressive feat for the dependable Coen brothers, who pump their trademark dark humor and tense situational irony into the veins of this film. The Coens use stereotypical plot devices, such as a satchel full of money and murder, to dig deeper into more vastly sweeping themes. It is the insight into mortality and morality that makes this crime saga a harsh and unrelenting piece of American cinema.

One of No Country’s greatest aspects is its soundtrack – a complete lack of one. Like Blood Simple (the brothers’ highly acclaimed modern take on film noir), we are left alone in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the sound of the wind and the roar of a gunshot to keep us company. The film’s ominous silence is piercing and works perfectly with the tone of the film.

While most are calling the film a "return of form" for the Coen Brothers, it is simply a return to their more acclaimed style of filmmaking – the kind that won them an Oscar for Fargo. While the film has its fair share of dark humor, it’s much more somber than the underlying humoristic tone of Fargo ever allowed it to be. No Country will easily be considered a classic Coen brothers movie, ranking as one of the best in the long line of films on their impressive resume.

Bardem gives one of the best performances of the year as the brutally horrifying Chigurh. His extraordinary monster is one of the creepiest psychos to grace the screen in years. His actions are so appallingly perverse and his ability to maintain a steadfast stare and a sense of grace is simply mesmerizing.

Brolin gives the best performance of his career. He performs on a level unlike anything he’s ever done before, carrying a large bulk of the movie on his back. While Bardem easily steals the movie, Brolin’s performance is very likely to leave you somber and bleak the entire way home.

Tommy Lee Jones is used sparingly but effectively, as he is the audience’s closest thing to a hero in the film. His world-weary outlook sets the film’s tone, from his mournful opening dialogue to his solemn closing monologue about dreams. Woody Harrelson also gives an impressive supporting performance as a shady DEA agent whose mysterious connection with Chigurh is never fully fleshed out.

No Country For Old Men

is a viciously brutal, unrelentingly graphic film. It never stops to take a breath or ask for your forgiveness. It simply is what it is: one of the best Coen Brothers movies as well as one of the best films of the year. Its philosophical undertone and examination of brutality in America never tries to purge audiences of their never-ending thirst for violence – instead, it indulges it.

As Chigurh stalks across Texas, cattle prod in hand, he essentially becomes the scariest of all monsters. He becomes one that looks like us. He becomes Death himself. And, as many of the souls in No Country For Old Men learn the hard way, there is no escaping him.

They will all meet Anton Chigurh. They will all meet Death.

Sooner or later, everyone does.

Leave a Comment