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Monday, 29 November 1999 18:00
Local opening date: 11/16/2007
Reviewed by Diane Carson
When the Coen brothers-Joel and Ethan-are at the top of their game, their work creates a decidedly strange and thoroughly engrossing world. Producing, directing, editing and sometimes writing their films, the Coens have hit homeruns with Fargo, Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O, Brother, Where Art Thou? and others. But even their gripping debut film Blood Simple barely prepares us for No Country for Old Men, an amazing achievement in every thematic and technical facet.

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel, the Coens honor the author by translating the story with pitch perfect existential dread. A nerve-rattling pursuit ensues after ne'er-do-well Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), hunting in the desert, stumbles upon a drug deal gone deadly. Moss steals the $2 million on hand, and sure as death, sociopathic hit man Anton Chigurh(Javier Bardem) soon follows with Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) hoping to get to Moss first.

Though it isn't explained in the film, the title No Country for Old Men comes from Irish poet William Butler Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium." Yeats' poem suggests most Sheriff Bell's qualities, brilliantly conveyed by Jones. Wise, experienced, world-weary, disillusioned, Bell is appalled at the new brand of violence, beyond any cold-blooded cruelty he's seen in his long career.

Translating that into ominous detail is five time Academy Award nominee Roger Deakins who shot the film. In an October American Cinematographer article, Deakins says the stories of No Country for Old Men and another film he shot that's in cinemas now, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, are more than the sum of their parts. And, indeed, both deeply affect the attentive viewers' mind and emotions because of great performances and superb technical choices. No Country for Old Men was shot in super-35 millimeter in and around Sante Fe. The landscape breathes and lives; the lighting expresses moods of each locale; and the sound design conveys every squeak, hiss, whisper of wind, and bated breath as we hold our breath, hearts in our throats. Seldom has a villain been more unnerving than Bardem who reeks havoc. At one point Sheriff Bell's deputy describes one bloody scene as "a mess." Bell replies, "If it ain't, it'll do until the mess gets here." No Country for Old Men is a stunning film, a brilliant feat of moviemaking. If it isn't, it'll do until perfection gets here. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac cinema.

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