As of now No Country for Old Men has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 95 percent which is pretty impressive. I doubt any Coen Brothers movie since Fargo has managed that. And after a string of mediocre failures like the Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty, all the Coen Bros fanboys, myself included, wanted them to hit it out of the ballpark with No Country for Old Men. The trailer sure made it look like they had. Watching No Country for Old Men makes it clear they haven’t. Some of the blame may lie on the original Cormac McCarthy novel, but No Country for Old Men isn’t a movie, it’s more like a lost episode of McGyver.
Subtract 75 percent of the Coen Brothers traditional sense of humor and 90 percent of their characterization and what’s left in No Country for Old Men is a brief chase with a whole string of violent killings along the way. There are movies that depend on an idiot plot, No Country for Old Men is an idiot plot since everyone involved behaves like an idiot. Llewelyn Moss played adequately by Josh Brolin wanders around a scene filled with bodies and then returns to it. He’s a decent enough survivor but not much else and if it wasn’t for the wry twist that Brolin gives some of his lines, he’d be a complete blank. Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Bell is somehow supposed to matter, he’s certainly given the final eulogy but nothing he does is of any use whatsoever and the dialogue and Jones’ performance suggest premature senility rather than world weariness.
And then there’s Anton Chigurh as played by Javier Bardem, described in the movie and by a lot of reviewers as the Ultimate Badass. No he’s really not. He’s more like a retarded cousin left over from the Adams Family or Raul Julia if he had gotten really chubby and short. He’s not a badass, he’s simply the focal point of an idiot plot in which he walks around half of Texas killing everyone in sight and no one stops him.
To understand just how idiotic the idiot plot in No Country for Old Men is, at one point Anton Chigurh has been hit with a shotgun blast. He stops outside a pharmacy, blows up a car and walks inside the pharmacy full of people and begins taking what he needs. Of course in anything resembling real life, not only do you get noticed when you do that, but the police come. Not in No Country for Old Men though, despite the fact that multiple witnesses have seen his face and he casually leaves his fingerprints everywhere, that he dressed in black in the middle of rural Texas, carries a gun with a massive silencer, has an unusual haircut and has killed about a dozen people… apparently there are no bulletins out for him or police looking for him. He walks into an office building, kills a man, sticks around for a bit and leaves. He does that time and time again.
It’s senseless of course and the highly praised ending of No Country for Old Men is twice as senseless. Reviews praise No Country for Old Men as bleak, but it’s too comic and absurd to be bleak. It’s simply pointless. It pits Josh Brolin’s relatively competent character against a ridiculous incompetent hit man whom the script endows with superpowers until he’s basically Michael Meyers or Freddy Kruger, able to appear anywhere at will, to plan everything out and to go from murder scene to murder scene, completely unnoticed. The idea that No Country for Old Men makes any kind of meaningful statement about violence is as much of a joke as the rivers of similar hype for A History of Violence, but where A History of Violence at least worked as a movie, No Country for Old Men does not.