Josh Brolin, who plays laconic hunter Llewelyn Moss in the new Coen Brothers thriller No Country for Old Men, told an audience at a recent screening that working with Joel and Ethan Coen was "like visiting Mars." That description, he says, didn't mean what some might think.
"They're so quirky, look at their movies, they're iconoclasts, they do what they want to do," Brolin says, aping what he calls the usual descriptions of the Coen Brothers.
The reality, he says, is that the Coens are pretty quiet on the set — and that it's a relatively drama-free environment.
"They finish each other's sentences. If one has an idea, the other will go, 'OK, that's great, let's try that.' That's the rarity," Brolin says. "That's the Mars part."
True, there was sometimes a disconnect between the brooding sense of threat that hangs over the picture and the technical tricks the filmmakers used to achieve that mood.
"The fact of the matter is, when you're on the set and they're putting the honey and red dye on you, it's kind of silly," Brolin says. "[There was] oatmeal at one point, some concoction. I have a feeling it'll be on the Food Channel pretty soon."
Brolin finds himself in what might be said to be in a transitional period, with roles in a number of recent high-profile films — and a certain amount of critical acclaim. Is the attention changing him? And what does he want to be transitioning toward?
"The only thing I could say is that I feel a little less worried that I'm going to embarrass myself," Brolin says. "I'm kind of willing to put myself out there ... work with great filmmakers and not play it safe."
In fact, Brolin says, he'd like to do a comedy next.
"I love to play outlandish characters — I love characters where you think they're one thing one moment and they turn out to be something else.
"I did a movie called Flirting With Disaster, and that guy — you know, he's a normal ATF agent," Brolin says. "And then he turns out to be bisexual, and then he turns out to have an armpit fetish, he turns out to be tattooed and pierced all over. I love those characters."
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.