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No Country for Old Men is a 2007 crime thriller film adapted for the screen and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. Adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men tells the story of an ordinary man to whom chance delivers a fortune that is not his, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama, as three men crisscross each other's paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas. The film examines the themes of fate and circumstance the Coen brothers have previously explored in Blood Simple and Fargo.

No Country for Old Men has been highly praised by critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "as good a film as the Coen brothers...have ever made." The Guardian journalist John Patterson said the film proved "that the Coens' technical abilities, and their feel for a landscape-based Western classicism reminiscent of Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah, are matched by few living directors." The film was honored with numerous awards, garnering three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).

Plot

West Texas in June 1980 is desolate, wide-open country, and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) laments the increasing violence in a region where he, like his father before him, has risen to the office of sheriff. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), hunting pronghorn, comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone awry: a collection of corpses, a wounded Mexicanmarker begging for water, and two million dollars in a satchel that he salvages and stashes under his trailer home. Unable to sleep from pangs of conscience, Moss returns with water for the dying man. Discovered by a pair in a jeep, he's chased on foot into the river and loses his truck. Still, he manages to return to his trailer, grab the cash, send his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) to her mother's, and make his way to a motel in a nearby town where he hides the satchel in the air vent of his room.

Hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) has been hired to recover the money. He's already strangled a sheriff's deputy to escape custody and stolen a car by using a captive bolt pistol to kill the driver. Now he traces the money via a radio transponder concealed inside the satchel to Moss's hideout. Bursting into the room at night, Chigurh surprises a group of Mexicans set to ambush Moss and murders them all. Moss, however, one step ahead, has rented the connecting room on the other side, so by the time Chigurh removes the vent cover with a dime to grab the cash, it's already back on the road with Moss.

Tracking the transponder to a border town hotel, Chigurh's pursuit climaxes in a firefight with Moss that spills onto the streets, leaving both men badly wounded. Moss flees across the border, collapsing from his injuries and waking up in a Mexican hospital. There Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), another hired operative, offers to save Moss's life in return for the money.

After Chigurh cleans and stitches his own leg wounds with stolen supplies, he gets the drop on Wells back at his hotel and kills him just as Moss calls the room. Picking up the phone and carefully avoiding the blood on the floor, Chigurh offers to spare Carla Jean for the money. Moss is defiant.

Moss arranges to rendezvous with his wife in El Pasomarker to give her the money and send her out of harm’s way. The hunted and the hunters converge on a motel in El Paso, but Bell and Carla Jean do not arrive until after Moss is dead in a shootout. That night, Bell returns to Moss's motel room to find the door lock blown out, Chigurh-style. Chigurh hides behind the door of a motel room, observing the shifting light through an empty lock hole. His gun drawn, Bell enters Moss's room and notices that the vent cover has been removed with a dime and the vent is empty.

Bell visits his Uncle Ellis (Barry Corbin), an ex-lawman. Bell plans to retire because he feels "overmatched," but Ellis points out that the region has always been violent. For Ellis, thinking it's "all waiting on you, that's vanity."

Carla Jean returns from her mother's funeral to find Chigurh lying in wait. He recalls the pledge he made to her husband that could have spared her, then offers her a coin toss for her life. She will not play, instead reminding him that the choice is his alone. Leaving the house by himself, Chigurh carefully checks the soles of his boots. As he drives away, Chigurh is injured in a car accident; his left arm is badly broken. He manages to leave the scene before the police arrive.

Now retired, Bell shares two dreams with his wife (Tess Harper), both involving his deceased father. In the first dream he lost "some money" that his father had given him; in the second dream, he and his father were riding horses through a snowy mountain pass. His father, who was carrying fire in a horn, quietly passed by Bell with his head down and was "going on ahead, and fixin' to make a fire" in the surrounding dark and cold. When Bell got there, he knew his father would be waiting. Then he woke up.

Cast and characters

Actor Character Notes
Josh Brolin Llewelyn Moss a welder and Vietnam veteran who flees with two million dollars in drug money that he finds in an open field in Texas.
Javier Bardem Anton Chigurh a sociopathic assassin hired to recover the drug money.
  • The character was a recurrence of the "Unstoppable Evil" archetype found in the Coen Brothers' work, though the brothers wanted to avoid one-dimensionality, particularly a comparison to The Terminator. The Coen Brothers sought to cast someone "who could have come from Mars" to avoid a sense of identification. The brothers introduced the character in the beginning of the film in a manner similar to the opening of the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth. Chigurh has been perceived as a "modern equivalent of Death from Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal." Chigurh's distinctive look was derived from a 1979 photo from a book supplied by Jones which featured photos of brothel patrons on the Texas-Mexico border. After seeing himself with the new hairdo for the first time, Bardem reportedly said, "I'm not going to be laid for three months." Bardem signed on because he had been a Coens fan ever since he saw their debut, Blood Simple.
Tommy Lee Jones Sheriff Ed Tom Bell a laconic, soon-to-retire county sheriff.
  • In September 2008, Jones announced that he was going to sue Paramount Pictures for $10 million, which he claims he is owed for his work on the film. Jones claimed he was not paid the correct bonuses and had expenses wrongly deducted.
Kelly Macdonald Carla Jean Moss Llewelyn Moss' wife. Despite having severe misgivings about her husband's plans to keep the money, she still supports him.
  • Macdonald said that what attracted her to the character of Moss was that she "wasn't obvious. She wasn't your typical trailer trash kind of character. At first you think she's one thing and by the end of the film, you realize that she's not quite as naïve as she might come across."
Woody Harrelson Carson Wells a cocky bounty hunter and acquaintance of Chigurh hired to recover the drug money.
Garret Dillahunt Deputy Wendell Bell's inexperienced deputy sheriff, Wendell assists in the investigation and provides comic relief.
Tess Harper Loretta Bell Bell's wife, provides reassurance in his darker moods.
Barry Corbin Ellis a retired sheriff shot in the line of duty and now wheelchair-bound. He acts as a straight-talking sounding board to his nephew, Bell.
Beth Grant Agnes Carla Jean's mother and the mother-in-law of Moss. She provides a little comic relief despite the fact that she is dying from "the cancer."
Stephen Root Man who hires Wells a mysterious figure who apparently was involved in the financing of the drug deal and the search for the money. He hired Wells, Chigurh and the Mexicans.
Gene Jones Thomas Thayer elderly rural gas station clerk with good fortune, as his call on Anton's coin flip saves his life.
Brandon Smith INS official stern guard in sunglasses who lets Moss through the border once he learns he was in the Vietnam War.


Themes and style

While No Country for Old Men is a "doggedly faithful" adaptation of McCarthy's 2005 novel and its themes, the film also revisits themes which the Coens had explored in their earlier movies Blood Simple and Fargo. The three films' themes focus on points of view, such as pessimism, nihilism in common. The novel's motifs of chance, free-will, and predestination are familiar territory for the Coen brothers, who presented similar threads and tapestries of "fate [and] circumstance" in earlier works including Raising Arizona, which featured another hitman, albeit less serious in tone. Numerous critics cited the importance of chance to both the novel and the film, focusing on Chigurh's fate-deciding coin flipping, but noted that the nature of the film medium made it difficult to include the "self-reflective qualities of McCarthy’s novel."

In The Village Voice, Scott Foundas writes that "Like McCarthy, the Coens are markedly less interested in who (if anyone) gets away with the loot than in the primal forces that urge the characters forward... In the end, everyone in No Country for Old Men is both hunter and hunted, members of some endangered species trying to forestall their extinction." Roger Ebert writes that "the movie demonstrates how pitiful ordinary human feelings are in the face of implacable injustice."

New York Times critic A. O. Scott says that Chigurh, Moss, and Bell each "occupy the screen one at a time, almost never appearing in the frame together, even as their fates become ever more intimately entwined."

Variety critic Todd McCarthy describes Chigurh's modus operandi:

Production

Producer Scott Rudin bought the book rights to McCarthy's novel and suggested a film adaptation to the Coen Brothers, who at the time were attempting to adapt the novel To the White Sea by James Dickey. By August 2005, the Coen Brothers agreed to write and direct a film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, having identified with how the novel provided a sense of place and also how it played with genre conventions. Joel Coen said of the unconventional approach, "That was familiar, congenial to us; we're naturally attracted to subverting genre. We liked the fact that the bad guys never really meet the good guys, that McCarthy did not follow through on formula expectations." The Coens also identified the appeal of the novel to be its "pitiless quality." Ethan Coen explained, "That's a hallmark of the book, which has an unforgiving landscape and characters but is also about finding some kind of beauty without being sentimental." The adaptation was to be the second of McCarthy's work, following the 2000 film All the Pretty Horses.

Writing

The brothers kept the script faithful to the book, only pruning the story where necessary. The script was so faithful to the novel that Ethan described the screenwriting process by saying, "[O]ne of us types into the computer while the other holds the spine of the book open flat." A teenage runaway who appeared late in the book and the backstory related to Bell were both removed. Also changed from the source material was Carla Jean Moss' reaction when finally faced with the imposing figure of Chigurh. As Kelly MacDonald explained to CanMag: "The ending of the book is different. She reacts more in the way I react. She kind of falls apart. In the film she's been through so much and she can't lose any more. It's just she's got this quiet acceptance of it."

The writing is also notable for its minimal use of dialogue. Josh Brolin discussed his initial nervousness with having so little dialogue to work with:

Casting

Actors Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones entered talks to join the cast in February 2006. Jones was the first actor to be officially cast in No Country for Old Men. The Coen Brothers felt that Jones fit the role since they wanted to avoid sentimentality and not have the audiences perceive the character to be a Charley Weaver type. Praising Jones' credentials, the Coen brothers said, "He's from San Saba, Texasmarker, not far from where the movie takes place. He's the real thing regarding that region." Joel Coen further outlined the directors' reasons for hiring Tommy Lee Jones in interview with Emanuel Levy:

Josh Brolin joined the cast shortly after in April, prior to the start of production. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed Brolin's first audition for the movie on a Panavision Genesis camera during lunch while filming Grindhouse. However, Brolin was initially overlooked for the role of Llewelyn. Other actors had been offered the role, including Heath Ledger, who turned down the offer to take time off from acting. According to Brolin, the Coens' only response to the audition tape was, "Who lit it?" Brolin said it was only due to his agents' persistence that he eventually got a callback:

Brolin broke his collarbone in a motorcycle accident a few days before filming was due to begin, but he and his doctor lied about the extent of his injury to the Coens and they let him continue in the role.

The Coens later wrote a short tongue-in-cheek piece for Esquire magazine called "Josh Brolin, the Casting Mistake of the Year," in which they claimed to have believed that they had cast James Brolin in the role of the aging Vietnam vet, and upon realizing their mistake were forced to reset the movie in the year 1980, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to recast Tommy Lee Jones' role with Shia LaBeouf.

Kelly Macdonald's agent originally wasn't sure she was right for the part of Moss' wife, and Macdonald is reported as having to "fight for the role." Her persistence paid off, however, as she was nominated for a BAFTA for best supporting actress.

Shooting

The project was a co-production between Miramax Films and Paramount's classics-based division in a 50/50 partnership, and production was scheduled for May 2006 in New Mexicomarker and Texasmarker. With a total budget of $25 million, production was slated to take place in the cities of Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as in the state of Texas. Filmmakers estimated spending between $12 and $17 million of the budget in New Mexico. A movie set of a border checkpoint was built at the intersection of Interstate 25 and New Mexico State Highway 65. The bulk of the film was shot in New Mexico, and primarily there in Las Vegasmarker, which doubled as the border towns of Eagle Passmarker and Del Rio, Texasmarker. The U.S.-Mexico border crossing bridge was actually a freeway overpass in Las Vegas. Other scenes were filmed around Marfamarker and Sandersonmarker in West Texas, and the scene in the town square was filmed in Piedras Negras, Coahuilamarker in Mexicomarker.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins, collaborating with the Coen Brothers for the ninth time, spoke of his approach to the film's look: "The big challenge on No Country for Old Men is making it very realistic, to match the story. It's early days, but I'm imagining doing it very edgy and dark, and quite sparse. Not so stylized."

Directing

One of the Coen brothers' influences was the works of director Sam Peckinpah. In an interview for The Guardian, they said "Hard men in the south-west shooting each other – that's definitely Sam Peckinpah's thing. We were aware of those similarities, certainly." In an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Coens discussed choreographing and directing the film's violent scenes: "'That stuff is such fun to do', the brothers chime in at the mention of their penchant for blood-letting. 'Even Javier would come in by the end of the movie, rub his hands together and say, 'OK, who am I killing today?' adds Joel. 'It's fun to figure out', says Ethan. 'It's fun working out how to choreograph it, how to shoot it, how to engage audiences watching it.'"

Josh Brolin discussed the brothers' directing style in interview, saying that the Coens "Only really say what needs to be said. They don’t sit there as directors and manipulate you and go into page after page to try to get you to a certain place. They may come in and say one word or two words, so that was nice to be around in order to feed the other thing. What should I do right now? I’ll just watch Ethan go humming to himself and pacing. Maybe that’s what I should do, too.'"

Musical score and sound

Unusual for a thriller, the Coens worked against Hollywood convention and minimized the score used in the film, leaving large sections devoid of music. The concept was Ethan's, who persuaded a skeptical Joel to go with that idea. There is some music in the movie, scored by the Coens' longtime composer, Carter Burwell, but after finding that "most musical instruments didn’t fit with the minimalist sound sculpture he had in mind [...] he used singing bowls, standing metal bells traditionally employed in Buddhist meditation practice that produce a sustained tone when rubbed." The movie contains a "mere" 16 minutes of music, with several of those in the end credits. The music in the trailer was called "Diabolic Clockwork" by Two Steps From Hell. Sound editing and effects were provided by another longtime Coens collaborator, Skip Lievsay, who used a mixture of emphatic sounds (gun shots) and ambient noise (engine noise, prairie winds) in the mix. The cattle gun used by Chigurh was in fact voiced by a pneumatic nail gun.

Title

The title of the book and the film is taken from the opening line of 20th-century Irish poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium."

Release

Theatrical run

No Country for Old Men premiered in Competition at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker on May 19, 2007. The film commercially opened in limited release in 28 theaters in the United States on November 9, 2007, grossing $1,226,333 over the opening weekend. The film expanded to a wide release in 860 theaters in the United States on November 21, 2007, grossing $7,776,773 over the first weekend. The film subsequently increased the number of theaters to 2,037. The film opened in Australia on December 26, 2007, and in the United Kingdom (limited release) and Ireland on January 18, 2008. As of February 13, 2009, the film has grossed $74,283,000 domestically (United States).

Home media

Buena Vista Home Entertainment released the movie on DVD and in the high definition Blu-ray format on March 11, 2008 in the US. The only extras are three behind–the–scenes featurettes.

The Region 2 DVD (courtesy of Paramount) was released on June 2. If purchased from Play.com the DVD comes with a set of limited edition art cards. HMV is selling the DVD in an exclusive Steelbook case. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the UKmarker on September 8, 2008.

A 3-disc Special Edition with Digital Copy was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 7, 2009.

Reception

As of October 22, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes recorded that 199 of 211 (94%) critics gave the film positive reviews, while another review aggregator, Metacritic, records an average score of 91%, based on 37 reviews. The film was widely discussed as a possible candidate for several Oscars, before going on to receive eight nominations, eventually winning four Academy Awards in 2008. Javier Bardem, in particular, has received considerable praise for his performance in the film. Roger Ebert gave the movie a four star review saying that it was "a masterful evocation of time, place, character, moral choices, immoral certainties, human nature and fate." Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central also praised the film as an effective adaptation of the source novel, declaring "the Coens have distilled the essence of McCarthy's gash-deep nostalgia for the illusory, ephemeral past... and packaged it in the very best moments of their own well of extraordinary visions." Two minority, dissenting voices were Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) and Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Stephen Hunter (The Washington Post). Rosenbaum gave it 1.5 out of 5 stars, saying while admiring the film's aesthetics, questioned its moral culpability: for him, the Coens expend great energy on depicting horror, while encouraging us to "hypocritically shake our heads at the sadness of it all." Hunter gave it 2.5 out of 5 stars and also acknowledged the Coens's film craft, but "just [didn't] like it very much": "Nobody goes to the movies for the irony. They go for the satisfaction."

David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz both gave the film five stars. Stratton remarked "this magnificent film represents the best work the Coen Brothers have done since Fargo. Like that movie classic, "this is a cold-blooded thriller with a darkly humorous edge" and "Hitchcock wouldn’t have done the suspense better." Pomeranz said "it resonates within me. It's got such a sense of place and language." Time magazine's Richard Corliss named the film one of the Top 10 Movies of 2007, ranking it at #1. Corliss praised Bardem’s performance as “mesmerizing” and “astonishing,” and the film as “dry, funny, beautifully acted, thrillingly cinematic.” Corliss’ fellow Time writer Richard Schickel ranked the film #2 on his own Top 10 list, saying that the film returned the Coen brothers “to their best emotional territory of Fargo and Miller's Crossing, a place where comic innocence and unmediated violence explosively coexist. You don't know whether to laugh or cry, but you cannot avert your eyes from the resulting chaos.”

Reviews



Top ten lists

The film appeared on more critics' top ten lists (354) than any other film of 2007, and was more critics' #1 film (90) than any other. Some of the notable critics' placement of No Country for Old Men are:





Awards and nominations

No Country for Old Men was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture. Additionally, Javier Bardem won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role; the Coen Brothers won Achievement in Directing (Best Director) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Other nominations included Best Film Editing (the Coen Brothers as Roderick Jaynes), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

The film was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, winning two at the 65th Golden Globe Awards. Javier Bardem won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture and the Coen Brothers won Best Screenplay – Motion Picture. The film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and Best Director (Coen Brothers). Earlier in 2007 it was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker. The Screen Actors Guild gave a nomination nod to the cast for its "Outstanding Performance." The film won top honors at the Directors Guild of America Awards for Joel and Ethan Coen. The film was nominated for nine Orange British Academy Film Awards's in 2008 and won in three categories; Joel and Ethan Coen winning the award for Best Director, Roger Deakins winning for Best Cinematography and Javier Bardem winning for Best Supporting Actor. It has also been awarded the David di Donatello for Best Foreign Film.

Consonant with the positive critical response, No Country for Old Men received widespread formal recognition from numerous North American critics' associations (New York Film Critics Circle, Toronto Film Critics Association, Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Online, Chicago Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, Austin Film Critics Association, and San Diego Film Critics Society). The American Film Institute listed it as an AFI Movie of the Year for 2007, and the Australian Film Critics Association and Houston Film Critics Society both voted it best film of 2007.

Legacy

In the episode Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D'oh of The Simpsons series, the character Anton Chigurh appears as a city inspector.

References

  1. Roger Ebert Chicago Sun-Times, November 8, 2007.
  2. http://www.flipsidemovies.com/nocountryforoldmen.html
  3. http://www.nerve.com/FilmLounge/review/nocountryforoldmen
  4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jan/12/fiction
  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2008/01/14/no_country_for_old_men_2008_review.shtml
  6. http://www.observer.com/2007/just-shoot-me-nihilism-crashes-lumet-and-coen-bros
  7. "Both book and movie offer glimpses of a huge, mysterious pattern that we and the characters can't quite see — that only God could see, if He hadn't given up and gone home."
  8. Foundas, Scott. "Badlands". Village Voice, November 6, 2007.
  9. No Country for Old Men (2007) - Trivia, Internet Movie Database
  10. Corliss, Richard. “The 10 Best Movies.” Time magazine, December 24, 2007, p. 40.
  11. Schickel, Richard. “The 10 Best Movies.” Time.com.
  12. http://tv.ign.com/articles/979/979129p1.html


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