For more than 20 years, Joel and Ethan Coen have been making maddeningly clever films that, depending on your opinion, are either brilliant pieces of cinema or represent the hermetically sealed worldview of two people who seem to have experienced life only through other movies.
Going into a Coen brothers movie, you know you’re going to get a spin on venerable film genres, hayseed characters with a love of florid speech (generally with some brand of hick accent), and a fairly convoluted plot that may or may not come to a satisfactory climax.
And if you thought that having a Cormac McCarthy novel for source material would change that, forget it.
Returning to the bleak landscape of their breakout hit “Blood Simple,” the Coens spin a Texas tale of murder and betrayal — it’s just too bad that the film offers incident but few motivations, and is loaded with good performances by actors who’ve barely been given characters to play.
The closest thing the movie gives us to a three-dimensional human being is Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell, a grizzled lawman who thought he’d seen the worst humanity had to offer. That was before killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, sporting a demonic “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” pageboy hairdo) hit town. Chigurh’s arrival has to do with a drug deal gone bad (as they tend to in movies), resulting in hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finding a huge cache of money.
And that’s pretty much all you need to know — money, murder, leaving town, hiding, chasing, killing, blah blah blah. Do the Coens direct this sort of thing with a maximum of artistry? Absolutely. Are Bardem and Brolin (and the rest of the cast) fun to watch? Most certainly. Could you take away their character names and just call them Crazed Assassin and Guy Who Finds Money, for all the depth the movie gives them? Well, yes.
Granted, the Coens are a specific taste — for everyone who finds their movies insufferably smart-alecky, there’s someone else who can recite every single line from “The Big Lebowski.” If you’re a Coen fan, you’ll enjoy “No Country for Old Men” as one of their best.
There’s a riveting sequence involving Brolin, the loot and two motel rooms that couldn’t be more perfectly edited. And despite his character having no shading, backstory or depth — or heck, maybe because of that — Bardem’s Chigurh makes for one of the screen’s eeriest psychopaths since Hannibal Lecter.
“No Country for Old Men” is the kind of film that will only cement the opinion you already have about its uniquely eccentric makers. Approach the ticket booth accordingly.