I try not to learn anything about film thrillers before I see them – I don’t want any identities to be revealed, motives to be assumed, surprises to be ruined. To avoid learning anything about No Country for Old Men, which I finally saw half a year after its initial theatrical release, was especially challenging – the film won much critical praise, plenty of awards (including 4 AMPAS statuettes), and was the subject of much heated discussion among friends, coworkers, and citizens of the blogosphere over its bleak tone, intense violence, and – for some - baffling ending.
Considering the plot (following Cormac McCarthy's novel) - in which Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Tommy Lee Jones take turns pursuing each other when $2 million goes missing after a drug deal gone wrong - viewers should expect violence. Coen brothers fans familiar with Fargo and Blood Simple may not flinch, but will notice the filmmakers have upped the carnage quotient. While some have pegged the film as just another psycho-killer riff, there’s more than one killer in the film (though Bardem makes the biggest impression). All the damage inflicted by these killers is in service, or response, to the booming, criminal drug trade (in cahoots with big business and corrupt government officials). Getting the money at any cost is the new breed’s credo – which may be nothing new, even when corrupt government and big business are implicated and innocent people are affected. In this sense, No Country for Old Men works as a meditation on greed akin to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, and may be a more effective look at the drug trade than Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic.
It’s fine if you ignore the social commentary, though – as panoramic and tense as an Anthony Mann western, No Country for Old Men will hold those viewers, who can handle its brutality, pessimism, and lack of easy outs, spellbound.
No Country for Old Men