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No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men

Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men

(Miramax/ Paramount Vantage)
Taciturn cowboy Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds a suitcase full of money out near the Rio Grande -- along with several dead Mexicans and a pick up truck full of heroin. Our hero knows that he shouldn't take the money, but he takes it anyway. For the duration of No Country For Old Men, The Coen Brothers' slick adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel, Moss runs doggedly for his life, relentlessly chased by a psycho killer with an unusual hair cut (Javier Bardem).
That's the main dramatic question: will Moss get to hold on to the loot and his life? There's also an assorted cast of supporting characters who become caught up in this desperate chase. Moss has a wife (Kelly McDonald), who has a mother, and before long, these women, too, have to flee for their lives. The small town Sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones in a role seemingly created only for Tommy Lee Jones) reflects on the nature of mankind, while half-heartedly trying to solve the case and save Moss's life. Woody Harrelson appears midway through the film as a smooth-talking bounty hunter.

There's much to admire in No Country For Old Men. An unnerving sense of suspense is sustained throughout. Long sequences transpire without dialogue, where the hunter (Bardem) and the hunted (Brolin) track each other with almost uncanny brilliance. Enormous attention is given to minuscule detail: the squeak of a light bulb being removed from its fixture, revealing drops of blood on the pavement.

Javier Bardem in "No Country For Old Men"

(Miramax/ Paramount Vantage)
Bardem makes for an unforgettable contract killer. He's more than just good with a weapon (a strange one at that); with his deranged coiffure and menacing conversational skills, he is a sinister version of a vengeful God. Often, he'll determine his victims' fate with the toss of a coin. Not only is Bardem terrifically creepy, he's also funny.

These small moments of humor are welcome in an otherwise unredeeming story of greed and evil. In this bleak American landscape, even suburban children do the wrong thing. Tommy Lee Jones eloquently pontificates on the evil that is man, and in choosing to tell this story -- stylish as it is -- the Coen Brothers seem to agree. Yet, the characters who populate the screen are not recognizable or particularly empathetic. While No Country For Old Men is compelling from beginning to end, the film lacks soul.

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