Down and dirty ‘old men’

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“No Country for Old Men” opens with a scene of quiet cruelty in which hired hitman Anton Chigurh (played with muted meanness by Javier Bardem) escapes his police captors. While handcuffed and seated, he robotically rises from his chair and wraps his chains around the neck of an unsuspecting deputy. They fall to the floor where Chigurh tightens his grip and looks skyward in an orgasmic rush as his victim flails.

His unflinching, voiceless visage sets the tone for the entire film, for he is a man of limited dialogue and singular purpose.

His mission is to retrieve a satchel of cash that was left behind in a Texas drug deal gone awry. He is eerily similar to Michael Meyers in the original “Halloween” – a hulky mass with an assured, deliberate stride. The exception is that instead of a mask, we actually have a look into his onyx-colored eyes that are sharp with focus but dulled to inflicting or receiving pain.

One who have mistakenly stumbled onto Chigurh’s path is Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin, continuing his triumphant trifecta in 2007 here, as well as “American Gangster and “Grindhouse.”), a retired welder out hunting when he spies the remnants of a Mexican standoff complete with a truck full of drugs and a case containing about $2 million.Llewelyn views the literal blood money as an escape from his trailer park existence and embarks on a journey to keep it hidden as he makes getaway plans for him and his wife.

The drug deal also attracts the attention of the cusp-of-retirement Sheriff Bell (embodied by Tommy Lee Jones in yet another glove-fitting role for the actor). Bell is not the stereotypical “I’m-getting’-too-old-for-this-sh**” officer, but a real human, haggard by the cancerous criminal elements that have eaten away at his tiny community.And while the scenario may sound rather slight in synopsis form, you can rest assured that from the pen of author Cormac McCarthy and the eyes of Joel and Ethan Coen, “Country” is anything but.What is most interesting about the film is that despite the rich language of which McCarthy is capable, the film version is remarkable more for what is not said. Stretches of eerie silence tighten the film’s vice-like grip on its audience.

In the past decade, the Coens have turned their characters into flesh cartoons. They’re given dialogue no human would say and surround them with absurdities not relatable to the real world.But by hitting the “mute” button in “Country,” the Coens focus on their startling skills as visual craftsmen. They stage scenes with such creeping – and, at times, sudden – intensity, it almost elicits shouts at the screen, just to break the tension.

While all involved are worthy of their material, it is Bardem who makes the most indelible mark as the remorseless killer. His broad frame is offset by a deceivingly boyish Prince Valiant haircut. And his weapon of choice is a pneumatic hole puncher with a tank of compressed air, a tool typically used for killing cattle at a slaughterhouse.

It is a fitting tool for Chigurh – fast, quiet and an object that helps feed his hunger. It’s all unquestionably brutal, and even the film’s quiet moments are offset by an impending dread. But it is a film that rattles its viewers long after the comfort of the house lights glow. “No Country for Old Men” is no movie for wussies of any age.

~ by usesoapfilm on December 11, 2007.

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