Film review: Coens return to 'Fargo' form

'No Country' a tense thriller that features trademark quirks

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

Javier Bardem shines as remorseless bad guy Anton Chigurh.

Richard Foreman, Miramax Films

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NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN — *** 1/2 — Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem; rated R (violence, gore, profanity, drugs, vulgarity, slurs); Broadway Centre; Century South Salt Lake; Cinemark Jordan Landing; Megaplex Jordan Commons

"No Country for Old Men" is the film that fans of the Coen brothers have been anticipating for at least a decade — ever since the pair won screenwriting Oscars for "Fargo."

"No Country" is a well-acted and tense thriller, their most assured accomplished movie in years, and much more in keeping with the tone of "Fargo," as well as "Blood Simple" and "Miller's Crossing."

That's not to say the film is lacking in the Coens brothers' trademark goofy humor and low-key quirks. But it is a fairly serious work.

"No Country" also includes a sudden shift in the priorities of character and story during the film's final quarter, which may be misunderstood by moviegoers who aren't paying attention.

An adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, "No Country" follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a Texas hunter who's stumbled into the aftermath of a violent drug-deal-gone-bad. He's also found a satchel containing millions in loot.

Rather than reporting what he finds, the Vietnam War vet decides to keep the money. And then he's immediately forced to go on the run when criminals track him down.

However, there are even worse things facing him — the bad guys have also sent Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a remorseless, seemingly unstoppable tracker who's armed with a cattle-killing device.

Llewelyn's last, best chance for survival may rest with Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who's hoping to catch him before the killer does.

The Coens ratchet up the tension to an almost uncomfortable degree, then lighten the mood with some well-timed humor. And then they start that process all over again.

This is some of Brolin's best work to date, though the film still belongs to Bardem and Jones, whose low-key mannerisms are well-suited to the Coens' sensibilities.

As usual with the Coen brothers, "No Country" features a terrific supporting cast, with brief but memorable turns from Kelly Macdonald (as Llewelyn's understandably worried spouse), Woody Harrelson, Stephen Root, Tess Harper and Barry Corbin.

"No Country for Old Men" is rated R for strong violence and other violent imagery (shootings, strangulation, animal violence, and vehicular and explosive mayhem), some graphic gore and blood, strong sexual language (profanity, crude slang and other suggestive talk), drug content and references (narcotics), and slurs based on race and ethnicity. Running time: 117 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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