Violence Overwhelms 'No Country'

Set in Texas in the 1980's, the film No Country for Old Men narrates a chase for stolen drug money. It's the latest from brother filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, whose films have always had violence as a theme. But this new movie is darker and more violent than ever before.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Coen Brothers - Joel and Ethan - set their newest movie a little further north, in Texas. They're known for their stylized violence and their offbeat world view.

MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan says with their latest film they take those signatures to another level.

KENNETH TURAN: With "No Country for Old Men," the Coen brothers dropped the mask. They've put violence on screen before, lots of it, but not like this. Not anything like this. "No Country for Old Men" doesn't celebrate or smile at violence; it despairs of it. This intense, nihilistic thriller tells the story of stolen drug money and the horrific carnage it precipitates. The Coen's escort you through a world so pitilessly bleak that, as one character says, you put your soul at hazard to be part of it.

(Soundbite from movie, "No Country for Old Men")

Mr. GARRET DILLAHUNT (Actor): (As Wendell) A lab report from Austin on that boy by the highway.

Mr. TOMMY LEE JONES (Actor): (As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell) What was the bullet?

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) There weren't no bullet.

Mr. JONES: (As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell) Weren't no bullet?

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) Yes, sir. Wasn't none. The Rangers and the DEA are headed back out to the scene this morning. You're going to join them?

Mr. JONES: (As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell) Any new bodies accumulate out there?

Mr. DILLAHUNT: (As Wendell) No, sir.

Mr. JONES: (As Sheriff Ed Tom Bell) Well, then I guess I can skip it.

TURAN: That's Tommy Lee Jones as a West Texas law man unnerved by the violence around him. Josh Brolin plays a local man who comes across millions in drug money and walks off with it. Sent to recover the cash is Javier Bardem, who chills the blood as a man who quite literally would as soon kill you as look at you.

(Soundbite from movie, "No Country for Old Men")

Mr. JAVIER BARDEM (Actor): (As Anton Chigurh) You know how this is going to turn out, don't you? I won't tell you you can save yourself, because you can't. That's the best deal you're going to get.

TURAN: "No Country" is also all you could hope for in a marriage between the Coen's and novelist Cormack McCarthy. The brothers have been making gleeful films about violence for decades. But it took McCarthy's measured, apocalyptic novel to provide them with the opportunity to say something serious about situations they've largely joked about before.

No one should see "No Country for Old Men" underestimating the intensity of its violence. But it's also clear that the Coen brothers and McCarthy are not interested in violence for its own sake, but for what it says about the world we live in.

As the film begins, a confident deputy says I got it under control, and in moments he is dead. He didn't have anywhere near the mastery he imagined. And in this despairing vision, neither does anyone else.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for the Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION.

See clips for "No Country for Old Men," plus lots more about what's playing in theaters this week at our Web site, npr.org/movies.

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'Country' Boys: Coen Brothers Out for Blood Again

Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men i

Country ways: Javier Bardem stalks the Texas desert in the Coen Brothers' latest chiller. Richard Foreman/Miramax Films hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Foreman/Miramax Films
Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men

Country ways: Javier Bardem stalks the Texas desert in the Coen Brothers' latest chiller.

Richard Foreman/Miramax Films

A hunter, stalking a wounded deer in the Texas desert, comes across a scene of carnage: A drug deal gone wrong, corpses everywhere, $2 million in a suitcase. The hunter, played in No Country for Old Men by Josh Brolin, takes the suitcase — and knowing that he's about to go from hunter to hunted, he takes a few precautions, too, spiriting himself out of town in one direction, and his wife in another.

Unluckily for them both, a psycho with a Buster Brown haircut and a weird weapon of choice is already on the hunter's trail. The weapon — a compressed-air gun of the sort used for killing cattle in slaughterhouses — leaves no clues, which initially leaves the local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) more than a little perplexed. But he'll eventually connect the killer and the hunter, and he'll prove pretty good at playing catch-up in a film that directors Joel and Ethan Coen have orchestrated as one long, seriously alarming chase sequence.

Like the early Coen Brothers films Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing, No Country for Old Men is a genre exercise — controlled, precise and exquisite in its imagery as it makes an audience cringe, pulses pounding. Javier Bardem, playing that murderous pursuer, makes humorlessness look scarily psychotic, and one hotel sequence is nerve-rattling enough to make you forget to breathe.

And despite working with a plot about implacable malice, the Coen Brothers don't ever overdo. You could even say they know the value of understatement: At one point they garner chills simply by having a character check the soles of his boots as he steps from a doorway into the sunlight.

By that time, blood has pooled often enough in No Country for Old Men that they don't have to show you what he's checking for.

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