After the release of two consecutive missteps, doubt began to creep into the collective psyche of filmgoers the world over as to whether they still had it. Joel and Ethan Coen have quieted any agnosticism with a resounding triumph. Owing much to their long-time collaborator, cinematographer Roger Deakins, they have taken Cormac McCarthy's minimalistic brutality and fully reimagined it for their medium.
The sparse nature of McCarthy's writing burns its way through the film; the Coens seemingly holding themselves to Hitchcock's belief that the right image will say much more than any words you can put in the mouths of the actors. This overarching lack of dialogue serves to lend even more credence to what each character does say. When the sporadic use of dialogue is coupled with the complete lack of a score, the result for the Coens is an intrinsically compelling film in which violence dances in and out of the characters' lives indiscriminately, just as it does in reality.
While the argument could certainly be made that the stars of the film could be Roger Deakins' camera and the landscape of West Texas, Southern New Mexico, and North Central Mexico, the Coens have once again managed to cast their film to perfection.
Javier Bardem channels insanity, dispassion, and determinism all at once, beholden to what one can only imagine to be some innate psychopathic code. Every choice Bardem makes is on point, including his much-talked-about hairstyle.
Tommy Lee Jones returns to the desert and scrubland of West Texas (the site of his little-seen directorial masterpiece The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) where it seems as though he's destined to turn in fantastic performances. His wizened visage emotes so much that Joel and Ethan could have probably just trained the camera on his face, not given the character of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell any lines of dialogue, and still gotten every point across they desired. Fortunately, that was not the case, as his character provides the film with its center, heart, and much of its humor. As he and his deputy, Wendell (Garret Dillahunt of Deadwood notoriety), investigate the spree of crimes in their jurisdiction, their banter lightens up what would otherwise be an unrelenting look at an instance of violence devouring everything in the path of a misplaced $2 million.
To ignore Josh Brolin would be an oversight, as his turn as Llewelyn Moss punctuates his triumphant return from a decade of wasting away in mostly irrelevant films. The past year has been kind to him, and in return he gives the public what some would not expect: a resolute, defiant, ordinary man whose opportunism puts him in an extraordinary--and seemingly insurmountable--situation.
As tends to be the norm with the Coen Brothers' films, the supporting roles are well cast, placing the viewer firmly in West Texas of 1980 with each secondary and tertiary fitting the bill of West Texan. Harrelson, Root, MacDonald, Corbin and the aforementioned Dillahunt all excel to name but a few.
Insofar as the story is concerned, complaints about the last quarter of the film seem flawed. The narrative of No Country for Old Men is propelled by one thing: the determination of Anton Chigurh to see his mission to the end. It is driven by his necessity to carry out all of his actions by his code. For the film to have the standard ending would have been a disservice to the singular force that tears through the movie, carving its way through the film and its characters with its jagged blade.