Sometimes, being ignorant about a particular topic helps you to appreciate and analyze it better. Just like it happened when I stumbled upon No Country For Old Men purely by chance. The only thing I knew when I started watching this film was that it had won 4 Oscars, including that of Best Picture of 2007. (By the way, I must confess that Oscar-winning films haven’t always enamoured me!) I had no idea who had made it, who starred in it or even what it was about. But the next two hours were to suck me into a masterly film that left me disturbed and yes, even confused. As a movie-buff who has been mainly raised on a staple of popular cinema and who is not too bothered about the arty, over-the-head, ‘festival-oriented’ films, I was at loss to express or even understand my feelings towards this film when the end credits started rolling! But one thing was sure that this film had stirred something deep inside and here is an attempt to encapsulate those feelings!
The film starts off in a deceptively languid manner with an uneventful arrest made by a policeman against a voiceover backdrop of an old sheriff reminiscing about the good old days when his predecessors did not even need a gun in their holster and lamenting about the abominable way in which crime world has changed since then! The significance of his speech dawns upon you within next few minutes when the arrested and handcuffed criminal first gets rid of his captor by strangulating him and then gets himself a car by killing the driver with a strange-looking weapon, resembling an oxygen cylinder! That killer would later be revealed as Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) - a tall dark man with a long mane, brooding face and a vacant stare, a ruthless psychopath killing with a special air-gun normally used to kill cattle.
As if this isn’t enough to shake you up, you then see Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin)- a cowboy-looking amateur deer-hunter, coming across a gory desert massacre arising out of a drug deal gone sour. With practically everyone dead on the scene, the shaken but street-smart Moss decides to keep the million dollar cash for himself. Knowing fully well that both, the drug-dealers and the law-enforcers would be soon coming after him, he then decides to leave for El Paso – a supposedly safe haven. But little does he know that Chigurh has been hired to track him (and the money!) down.
With his deputy killed by Chigurh and the drug-massacre happening in his jurisdiction, the old sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) now has to get himself involved in this nasty business, which is getting nastier by the minute as Moss tries to shake his tracker off his trail and Chigurh practically mowing down anyone coming in his way! How will it all end?
Set against the backdrop of the vast, barren, sandy Western canvas, this film has plenty of mystery, drama and dark humor- not to speak of murders and cat-and-mouse chases- to keep you thoroughly engrossed and guessing for its entire length. Great performances (with Bardem’s evil one scoring handsomely over the others!), superb direction, taut editing, sparse but cutting edge dialogue, memorable sequences and practically non-existent background music- everything combines to give an eerily terrifying feel to this movie.
The sudden inconclusive ending may leave some viewers non-plussed as it did initially to me. But on second thought, I agreed with its suspended conclusion- it makes the viewers think. It is a film that doesn’t belong to any particular genre; it goes beyond all that. To me it seemed like an atmospheric film with a lot of symbolism. Symbolically Chigurh represents the pure unadulterated remorseless evil; Moss represents essentially a common man gone astray through his greed and search for a better life and the Sheriff represents a crumbling old world order, finding itself hopelessly out of depth against a paradigm shift of values and growing anarchy! The film just tries to tell that it is an inevitable timeless circle!
But that’s my conclusion, that too after just one viewing. You might come up with totally different and diametrically opposite thoughts- or for that matter even I might do that – on second or third viewing! Go watch it – if you haven’t yet watched it!
PS: I had earlier seen Intolerable Cruelty and Ladykillers without getting terribly impressed or even without knowing anything about Coen Brothers’s part in it. Now I know why so many movie-buffs are making so much of fuss about these talented siblings-Joel and Ethan! They are simply brilliant here. Over next few months, I am going to try and track down all their movies on DVDs! And yes, I am also going to try and get (and read) Cormac McCarthy’s novel No country for old men, on which this film is based!