|No Country for Old Men , 2007. Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, Tess Harper, Woody Harrelson.
"Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I don't want to confront him. I know he's real. I have seen his work. I walked in front of those eyes once and I wont do it again."
Synopsis: Out in the desert of West Texas, Llewelyn Moss stumbles across the remains of a drug deal gone horribly wrong. The drugs are intact, and after a short search, he finds the money, too, all two million dollars of it. Unfortunately for Moss, other parties are interested in that money, most notably Anton Chigurh, a psychopath who views himself as the random fate of mankind. He executes that fate with a cattlegun to the foreheads of his victims. On the heels of Chigurh is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a world-weary lawman who has seen too much and despairs of what the world holds in store...
Annihilating Angels: Based solely on a description of its plot, you might think that No Country for Old Men is a stock genre piece. To an extent, it is, but it uses genre as a tool, rather than inhabiting it. As a genre construct, you can see echoes of films like The Getaway, A Simple Plan, and even The Terminator. The movie plays a lot like a dark mirror image of the Coens' own Fargo, even down to a final scene in which their respective sheriffs try to make sense of what has gone before, but there, the similarity ends. At about the two-thirds mark, the movie jumps the rails as far as genre constructions go and veers into questions crime films rarely tackle. First, it denies the audience a tidy confrontation that seems to be building throughout the entire film, one predicated on the notion that Josh Brolin's Llewellyn Moss is the film's true protagonist. Next, it destroys the notion that Anton Chigurh is an unstoppable killing machine. Finally, it delves into Sheriff Bell's vanities. The McGuffin--the drugs, the money, the double chase--is almost completely moot by movie's end.
It's all carefully orchestrated. The filmmakers have mustered career-best work from their collaborators, particularly cinematographer Roger Deakins and actors Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones. Jones in particular could play this role in his sleep, but chooses to invest his full talents. Certainly, Javier Bardem's portrayal of Chigurh is destined to fix in the collective unconscious alongside Hannibal Lecter, which is all part of the plan, I guess. The scene where he forces an unsuspecting clerk to gamble his life on the toss of a coin is part of the pattern. The Coens, and Cormac McCarthy, upon whose book the movie is based, are creating a "prophet of destruction," so to speak. But then they do something very interesting. The key scene in the movie isn't one of the razor sharp set-pieces or the sardonic scenes between characters, it's the scene after Chigurh has forced another character to gamble on a coin toss. In this scene, Chigurh is driving away from the scene and is t-boned by another car. He gets out of the car nursing a compound fracture of his right forearm and offers one of the kids who witness the crash a hundred dollars for a shirt with which to make a sling. This scene seems to come out of nowhere, almost completely at random, given that we learn no more of Anton Chigurh in the movie. But the scene does two things: it punctures Chigurh's invincibility, but more importantly, it transforms Chigurh into Moss. Earlier in the movie, Moss also offers money to a kid for a shirt to cover his wounds. Chigurh, for all his aspirations as an annihilating angel of destruction, is just a man after all, and subject to the same kind of random catastrophe as those who cross his path.
The Silence: What the final third of the movie intimates is that if there is a God, he is strangely silent. He may not exist at all. Sheriff Bell tells his uncle, "I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didn't." The film closes with Bell describing a dream to his wife, in which his father is waiting up ahead with a horn of fire against "all that dark." The film intimates that it's just a dream. That the dark is all consuming. There is no comfort from gods or men. In this, the film is almost purely existential, with Sheriff Bell as the audience's surrogate in trying to make a meaning out of what he sees. That what he sees is horror--all that dark, as it were--is not reassuring.