No Country for Old Men (2007)

Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon dead bodies, $2 million and a hoard of heroin in a Texas desert, but methodical killer Anton Chigurh comes looking for it, with local sheriff Ed Tom Bell hot on his trail. The roles of prey and predator blur as the violent pursuit of money and justice collide.

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

This is hardly a country for young men and women, either. This is almost certainly the Coen's best film, most likely due to Cormac McCarthy's austere novella reining in their artistic excesses. It, of course, does poke out in a few places. Something unflattering lurks in the appearance of that Norteño band. And there's undoubtedly condescension running through in the depiction of the lady motel owner in addition to Carla Jean's blabbermouth mother — her scene another rejoiner to Sheriff Bell's reactionary contention that the lack of 'politeness' is the ultimate cause of the state of the world. The white male owner of the hardware store that Moss returns déshabillé isn't ridiculed as far as I can tell, and indeed, it isn't always edifying to speculate on why certain characters in the Coen Brother's filmography are singled out for flattery or censure.

The film makes something of Bressonian fetish of the precise way Moss hides the satchel in the air duct, mirroring the way Bresson's Pickpocket (1959) and A Man Escaped (1956) build suspense through visual details. The bleak but painterly Christian imagery (the forbidden tree of knowledge Bell finds the money under, for example) has a definite Bresson look and feel to it too, just as the Biblically severe soundtrack has in the aural dimension. The off-screen deaths of Moss and Carla are then not only a way of affording them a modicum of relative dignity but also subliminally catches the audience's interest by denying them the catharsis of a typical character arc. Indeed, No Country for Old Men appears to privilege sights, sounds, movements, silences and spaces over classical concerns of plot and adhering to 'classical' movie-making rhythms. And, of course, there is something model-like within Bardem's.


[Chigurh's] clinical, heartless attacks emerge from under a charming veneer of politeness that seems to taunt and contradict Bell's elementary wisdom of bad manners leading to horrific crime. […] One might think that Moss's guilty conscience, which compels him to return with water and allows pursuers to track his truck's registration plate, is responsible for sealing his fate. That sleepless night of shame and remorse actually buys the protagonist time and territory, bringing a conscious awareness to his situation. If he had shown no empathy he would have gone on living the next day with the money tucked away under his trailer, and it would not have taken Chigurh very long with his radar transponder to hunt him down in a surprise attack.


[One] amendment from the novel, which tells us that Carla Jean partook in the coin toss and lost, gives her strong conviction added weight. She is not a gambler and still saw herself as a supermarket worker despite Llewellyn's claim she is set for life, because the new money was in roulette flux. As she stands up to this toxic masculinity of pointless mind games, she knows that her rebuttal will not sway his decision. She says it anyway while leaving the wild card unused.

David Wallace


Manages to be very different from Cormac McCarthy’s novel through an extravagant, literal fidelity to a great deal of it.

Michael Wood (London Review of Books)


The movie charts no moral shift in Chigurh, or indeed in the men around him; all of them are set in stone from the beginning (Sheriff Bell appears to be made from stone), and we gradually realize that “No Country for Old Men” is not telling a tale—the plot remains open-ended—but reinforcing the legend of a place, like a poem adding to an oral tradition. Texas is presented as a state of being, where good and evil circle doggedly around each other, and it just doesn’t occur to Moss that he could take his black bag, catch a flight, and seek a world elsewhere.


There is no denying that Javier Bardem cuts a singular figure. For one thing, he currently has the biggest, noblest, and most sculpted head of anyone in movies. [I] can never quite suppress the thought, watching him onscreen, that he must have flown straight to the set from Easter Island.

Anthony Lane (New Yorker)