Best of the Decade #4: No Country for Old Men
I have complaints pretty much every year when the Oscars roll around. They rarely seem to get it right, often opting to go for the safe “Oscar baiting” material that is getting the most buzz at the time. 2008 was an exception, with No Country for Old Men taking home four awards including Best Picture.
One of the best movies in the already impressive resume of the Coen brothers, No Country for Old Men is a dark, bleak, and modern update to the traditional Western formula. It plays out like a three-way game of cat and mouse (although I’m unsure if the third member would be another cat, mouse, or some other creature).
One thing I always enjoy about Coen brothers movies is the characters they create and insert into the action of their story. Their very simple plots, in most cases, are made much more compelling just because the characters are so interesting. From The Big Lebowski‘s “The Dude” to Osbourne Cox in Burn After Reading, their characters rival only Tarantino’s in terms of sheer creativity and entertainment value.
Based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, No Country for Old Men is one of the few movies they have made that is adapted from another medium. Even still, they had the task of bringing a character as odd as Anton Chigurh to the big screen. Javier Bardem embodied his the dark emptiness of his character perfectly, winning a much deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
The most impressive thing about this movie, though is the way the Coens keep the tension so high while using almost no music (there are a few subtle string sounds that often go unnnoticed). There is never a dull moment or a break in the intensity of the chase. Even when Josh Brolin’s character seems to be safe for a little bit, he never has a chance to relax. Neither does the viewer. This is an engaging film that is simply mesmerizing up until its abrupt conclusion, a true modern masterpiece.