Sadly for Dave Davis this was the motto of Tweenland.

STUDIO: Miramax
MSRP: $29.99
    * Working with The Coens
    * The Making of No Country for Old Men
    * Diary of a Country Sheriff

Let’s take the two foremost visual stylists of film, mix them with the foremost prose stylist of literature, and see what they come up with. Maybe it’ll be good.

Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Garret Dillahunt, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root.

One of the few Best Picture winners that unabashedly deserved the honor, No Country For Old Men is exactly the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. Filled with performances so good that the superlative ‘career best’ can’t begin to do them justice and shot with a sparse elegance that exactly captures Cormac McCarthy’s simple style, No Country has also divided audiences with some unconventional narrative choices. As exciting as it is to see people debating the meaning of cinema, it’s sort of a bummer to see so many people missing the boat. This film has been exceptionally well and thoroughly reviewed here at CHUD, so I wanted to use my review to examine these narrative choices and why they work so goddamned well.

‘Hot damn, I’m gonna break my own Silent Scope record!’

This review is exceptionally spoiler filled and mostly concerned with the meaning of the final twenty minutes of the movie. You’ve been warned.

 ‘You didn’t get it’ is such a facile way of countering someone’s
differing opinion of a movie. And when it comes to No Country For Old
Men it’s a tactic I hate to take because I’m not sure I fully get the
movie; No Country is like a deceptively deep stream, one that you think
you can walk across easily until you come to that sudden drop off. The
simplicity of the plot – a man finds drug money and is chased down by
an unstoppable bad ass – hides the complexity of a story about the
nature of violence, the ‘dismal tide’ of change, the ways that we do or
don’t engage the world, the individual meanings of honor and more. The
film’s final words – ‘And then I woke up’ – could inspire a book’s
worth of analysis. I’ve spent the last little while pondering them in
relation to the film’s sudden ending – we’re waking up from the dream
as the houselights come on.

But while I can’t pretend to write this from a position of lofty
understanding of all of No Country‘s themes and meanings, I do feel
that I can comfortably say to the people who complain about the movie’s
ending and about Llewelyn’s death ‘You didn’t get it.’ Any opinion on
this film that comes from the position that the ending and Llewelyn’s
off screen death don’t work is illegitimate. Any opinion that sees
these things as gimmicks or stunts is dismissable. The death of the
film’s seeming protagonist off screen – and at the hands of someone
other than the unstoppable badass who has been hunting him all along –
is completely integral to what this film is about. The entire movie has
been leading up to that moment, and the final scenes of the film almost
walk you through the meaning of it. I can understand being gobsmacked
by the death, since it is completely narratively unconventional and
presented in a way that, I think, is intentionally confusing. I can
understand how you can feel a little annoyed at the Coens (and by
extension Cormac McCarthy, who killed off Llewelyn in the book in the
same way) for pulling the rug out from under you, but in the end the
thoughtful viewer has to come to understand that this is the whole

The massive retooling of The New Adventures of Old Christine saw Josh Brolin starring as a grown up Arnie Cunningham and Della Reese as the car.

The film ends up being about Ed Tom, the sheriff who really barely
participates in the events of the story. He’s a character at the side,
observing and always too many steps behind the action, but it’s his
movie. The movie never makes a secret of who it’s all about – the
title alone gives it away, but the opening narration comes right out
and just tells you what this whole story means. Maybe too many
people don’t pay the proper attention, assuming that all of Tommy Lee
Jones’ jawing is mood setting or some such, but the truth is that over
shots of the lonesome Texas landscape Ed Tom is explaining to us what
we’re going to see: that the old world is giving way to a new one, one
that he doesn’t understand and one whose possibilities for evil seem
limitless and, worst of all, random. That boy that Ed Tom sends to the
electric chair didn’t kill his girlfriend for a reason other than to
kill; as a lawman whose family history in peacekeeping stretches back a
couple of generations Ed Tom understands that crime has a narrative and
a structure. You kill your girlfriend because she cheated or because
you wanted her money or because she wouldn’t shut up when you came home
late. The narrative and structure of crime, of evil, didn’t only make
his job doable, it made his world understandable. But this boy who
kills for only the purpose of killing – that’s the kind of thing that
makes your world make a whole lot less sense.

When Llewelyn dies off screen we’re suddenly robbed of the comfort of
narrative structure, just like Ed Tom has been.  The cardinal rule of
filmmaking, they say, is ‘Show don’t tell,’ and this is a genius way of
taking what we have been told and turning it – suddenly and forcibly –
into something shown. It’s easy to make people understand your movie’s
theme, it’s much harder to make them feel it. And just in case you
don’t get it, Ed Tom sits down for a cup of coffee and discusses the
‘dismal tide’ of change and is forced to answer the question ‘How do
you defend against it?’

The answer for Ed Tom is that you don’t. He quits. In his opening
narration he talks about the dangers to your soul of putting all your
chips in and facing the new, seemingly arbitrary evil. I think this is
what really pisses people off; they’d be okay with Llewelyn biting it
the way he does if Ed Tom stepped up in the next scene, if when he
brushes against the ghostly Chigurh in the motel there was a showdown,
a reckoning. That’s why it’s hard for people to see Ed Tom as the
central character of the story, because they don’t want the movie to be
about how the world wears you down until you die or you quit.

What’s interesting is that I’m not sure that Chigurh is the unknowable,
fickle evil that bothers Ed Tom so much. Each of the three leads in the
movie have their own code, their own set of ethics, even Chigurh. His
code is twisted – he shows up at the end to kill Carla Jean simply
because he told Llewelyn he would – but it’s a code nonetheless. Anyone
who meets Chigurh is likely to meet his own death, and it is the kind
of capricious death that bothers Ed Tom so much, the flipping of a coin
decides your survival, life and death separated only by blind, stupid
chance*. But there’s something focused about Chigurh, something that
goes beyond simply killing to kill. He’s like harnessed destruction,
which in the end still makes more narrative sense than waking up one
day and simply deciding you’re going to kill someone, anyone. That’s
why Chigurh doesn’t kill Llewelyn – between that scene and the car
accident we see that even he, this force of nature, can be blindsided
by the randomness of violence.

‘Milk shake? Are you kidding me? What is this, a fucking Kelis video? I thought ‘Friendo’ was going to be the big catchphrase.’

Watching the film again for this review I took note of two things.
While this is, without a doubt, the least Coen Brothers ‘feeling’ film in their
filmography, it has some glorious Coen touches, like the mariachi band
that awakens the bloodied Llewelyn. But my favorite Coen touch is the
scene at the pool just before Llewelyn dies; like the narration at the
beginning this is a scene where the Coens simply tell us what is about
to happen. You never see what’s coming, the girl at the pool tells
Llewelyn, and then bang, you don’t see what’s coming. Straightforward
is usually the Coen’s least favorite direction but here they use it to
their own purposes. Sometimes just telling you outright is the best
twist of all.

The other thing that struck me is the scene between Ed Tom and Barry
Corbin as Ellis, the old crippled deputy. If the film is pulling a
switcheroo at any point, it’s here. Maybe it isn’t the world that’s
changing around Ed Tom, it’s Ed Tom who’s changing. This is no country
for old men, but it never has been, because it wears you down until you
can’t survive anymore. The world today is no worse or terrifying than
the old days Ed Tom longs for, the days when Ellis can take a bullet
that puts him forever in a chair, the days when a lawman can take a
bullet in the lung and linger for hours, slowly dying, as his wife has
to dig him a grave in the tough earth. The world’s not changing. It’s
changing us.

* Interestingly in the Carla Jean scene the coin flipping takes on a
strange kind of tenderness. ‘This is the best I can do,’ Chigurh tells

When No Country For Old Men came
out I had a chance to talk to the Coen Brothers in a roundtable
interview. It was a great moment, personally, but not the most
enlightening, professionally. The Coens are taciturn at best, and when
they do talk about their movies you don’t know when they’re pulling
your leg. Cormac McCarthy, meanwhile, makes the brothers seem positively loquacious. The DVD of No Country reflects that; not quite barebones but without much special features meat, this DVD will leave you wanting something more. I recommend buying the disc and pretending like there are no special features – the great movie is special feature enough.

9 out of 10.