They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In the case of Anton Chigurh, those windows open upon nothingness. In fact, his faded blue eyes seem to suck the very souls from those unfortunate enough to fall under their gaze. He is a psychopathic hit man who kills his victims with a compressed air powered cattle stun prod. Played with petrifying intensity by noted Spanish actor Javier Bardem (“Before Night Falls”), Chigurh is one of the most terrifying and memorable movie bad guys in recent memory. One part Michael Meyers, one part Pinhead and one part void, Chigurh emits an aura of evil so strong you get the feeling that plants would wilt as he passed by. He is the lynchpin of the Coen Bros. fascinating new film “No Country for Old Men.”
The first time we see Chigurh, he’s strangling a Sheriff’s deputy with his own handcuffs; the distant, almost orgasmic expression on his face sending more chills down your spine than the blood spurting from the gurgling deputy’s neck. He’s on the trail of a satchel full of money that has gone missing after a botched drug deal in southwest Texas. The money in question is in the possession of an unemployed welder named Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin, the dirty cop who’s Mustang gets blown up in “American Gangster”), who had the misfortune of coming across the gruesome aftermath of the drug deal while out hunting. The third angle in the film’s triumvirate is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (a worn out Tommy Lee Jones, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”), within whose jurisdiction the whole mess begins.
The performances by the three leads are fantastic. Brolin is solid as the desperate fool who’s gotten himself in way over his head. Bardem is terrific as the stone-faced killer, bringing an intangible something extra to the role. From his red-rimmed eyes to his murmuring voice to his nasty penchant for making his victims chose their fate on a coin toss, Chigurh is a baddie you hope you never run into on the street in broad daylight, let alone in a dark alley. As the world-weary Sheriff, Jones delivers one of the best performances of his long career. His performance is so natural, so authentic and so pure Texan that just the way he speaks inspires awe. His final two scenes, which elucidate the meaning of the film’s title, his stilted Texas drawl barely veiling decades’ worth of pain and despair, are truly powerful.
“No Country for Old Men” is a tough film to describe. Based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, on the surface it seems like an ordinary ‘heist gone wrong’ crime drama, but, as a Coen Bros. film, there’s so much more. The film is in many ways a Coen Bros. film, but it also isn’t. The film contains the usual Coen Bros. signature elements – quirky characters, obtuse dialog, savage violence and dry humor. Let’s face it, there are few more incongruous images than a ghost-like killer stalking his victims while lugging around a tank of compressed air. Yet somehow, since this is a Coen Bros. film, this seems acceptable. But what this film lacks is the inherent lightheartedness that normally underlies their films. This omission is by design, though, not a shortcoming. I suspect the influence is directly from McCarthy’s source material, where unspeakable brutality and savagery are part-and-parcel of his cannon. The result is a film that isn’t overtly nasty or offensive, but has a very strong and unsettling undercurrent of the macabre.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of “No Country for Old Men” is how it feels so completely empty – totally devoid of any spec of humanity or spirit. I don’t know how the Coen Bros. pulled it off, but the effect is more terrifying than even Chigurh’s vacant stare. “No Country for Old Men” is definitely not for everyone; but then what Coen Bros. film is? This is a brutal and uncompromising film about unsavory characters and their reprehensible behavior, but it goes about its business in a very subtle and unassuming way. It’s an effect that sneaks up on you and finally sinks in at the film’s enigmatic ending. And it’s absolutely brilliant.
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (director) / Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (screenplay), Cormac McCarthy (novel)
CAST: Tommy Lee Jones … Ed Tom Bell
Javier Bardem … Anton Chigurh
Josh Brolin … Llewelyn Moss
Woody Harrelson … Carson Wells
Kelly Macdonald … Carla Jean Moss
Garret Dillahunt … Wendell
Tess Harper … Loretta Bell
Barry Corbin … Ellis