Film: Academy Awards: “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”


From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Seven years after Cities of the Plain brought his acclaimed Border Trilogy to a close, McCarthy returns with a mesmerizing modern-day western. In 1980 southwest Texas, Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles across several dead men, a bunch of heroin and $2.4 million in cash.

The bulk of the novel is a gripping man-on-the-run sequence relayed in terse, masterful prose as Moss, who's taken the money, tries to evade Wells, an ex–Special Forces agent employed by a powerful cartel, and Chigurh, an icy psychopathic murderer armed with a cattle gun and a dangerous philosophy of justice.

Also concerned about Moss's whereabouts is Sheriff Bell, an aging lawman struggling with his sense that there's a new breed of man (embodied in Chigurh) whose destructive power he simply cannot match. In a series of thoughtful first-person passages interspersed throughout, Sheriff Bell laments the changing world, wrestles with an uncomfortable memory from his service in WWII and—a soft ray of light in a book so steeped in bloodshed—rejoices in the great good fortune of his marriage.

While the action of the novel thrills, it's the sensitivity and wisdom of Sheriff Bell that makes the book a profound meditation on the battle between good and evil and the roles choice and chance play in the shaping of a life.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The Washington Post's Book World/

For 40 years, since The Orchard Keeper, Cormac McCarthy has brought forth literature as important as it is rare. Beyond that, critics and readers tend to diverge wildly with each novel, which to my eye is further proof of the writer's power. No Country for Old Men will have the same effect.

This is a profoundly disturbing and gorgeously rendered novel that will certainly be quibbled with. Not the least of the objections will almost surely be what makes the novel so attractive. No Country for Old Men is the most accessible of all McCarthy's works. This is not necessarily a good thing.

The plot is simple. One fine morning in west Texas, a young Vietnam vet is antelope hunting when he comes upon the carnage of a drug deal gone bad. Both heroin and a suitcase of cash remain at the site, along with a number of bodies.

The cash is enough to entice the otherwise upright Llewelyn Moss to steal it, although conveniently it's not so much that it can't be carried, not even after Moss receives the first in a long line of wounds. Moss has a moral clarity reminiscent of John Grady Cole from All the Pretty Horses (1992); he knows he's making the worst mistake of his life but can't resist the temptation or the chance to test himself. He knows he'll be hunted (and hunted he is) but believes he can outsmart the hunters.

The other two main characters enter as polarities: a psychopathic killer, Anton Chigurh, whose only apparent moral code is to leave no witnesses to his existence; and Sheriff Bell, a World War II veteran who's a bit smarter than most other law enforcement officers and does his best to find and protect Moss while offering thoughts on existence and the unhinged modern world. The sheriff has his own dark secret which, unfortunately, is somewhat at odds with his character.

Finally, other than a handful of minor characters, there are three women -- or two and a half, depending how you count. The wives of Moss and Bell are tough, tender women, rock-solid square behind their men. The third has the same potential but like most everyone in the novel winds up dead first.

McCarthy's language is stripped lean and mean here. In places, dialogue carries large sections of the story. His ear for speech, dialect and wordplay remains noteworthy in American letters. His descriptive passages are lucid and visual -- this novel needs no film adaptation. He writes in painstaking and painful detail about self-treatment of gunshot wounds, exhibiting a near-morbid fascination that's beyond the call of the narrative. Even what in previous novels were long digressions are now minimal injections of first-person rumination and reflection by Bell. In short, No Country for Old Men is a page-turner. Readers who have been unwilling to wade through McCarthy's more complicated fables will be swept along for the ride.

Many long-term readers will do the same.
So what's not to like? Plenty. The symbolism is achingly awkward, starting with the names; Moss, Bell, Chigurh (rhymes with "sugar" but reminded this reader of chigger, the small boring insect that gets under the skin and causes a rash, pain and possibly blood infection). Narcotics are the broken hinge of the world or, as the sheriff, who offers homely and homespun thoughts at a numbing rate, has it, "If you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would just bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics." Modern society's abandonment of Christ is frequently mentioned, which, while fitting the near-stereotypical rural nature of these characters, is handled simplistically. Even moments that on first reading appear insightful lose their sheen a second time through:

"Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. I had no belief in your ability to move a coin to your bidding. How could you? A person's path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning."

Bell's wife, Loretta, is quickly sketched but has a vibrancy lacking in more fully realized women from previous works. Still, it's hard to picture ex-prisoners bringing their new wives to meet her and breaking into tears because she fed them well when they were incarcerated. Cornpone, pure and simple.

That said, this is an entertaining novel from one of our best writers. Often seen as a fabulist and an engineer of dark morality tales, McCarthy is first a storyteller. But No Country for Old Men is a minor addition to his work. Rumor has it that this novel came to the publisher at around 600 pages. If that is the case, one can't help but wonder if a truly magnificent work was lost at the cost of pruning with an eye toward the marketplace.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Lent

Copyright 2005, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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2007-2008 Film Entertainment Magazine / All rights reserved.

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No Country for Old Men (Vintage International) (Paperback) Author: Cormac McCarthy

The novel is a gripping man-on-the-run sequence relayed in terse, masterful prose as Moss, who's taken the money, tries to evade Wells, an ex–Special Forces agent employed by a powerful cartel, and Chigurh, an icy psychopathic murderer armed with a cattle gun and a dangerous philosophy of justice.

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (October 9, 2007)
• Language: English

The Coen brothers make their finest thriller since Fargo with a restrained adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel. Not that there aren't moments of intense violence, but No Country for Old Men is their quietest, most existential film yet. In this modern-day Western, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a Vietnam vet who could use a break. One morning while hunting antelope, he spies several trucks surrounded by dead bodies (both human and canine). In examining the site, he finds a case filled with $2 million. Moss takes it with him, tells his wife (Kelly Macdonald) he's going away for awhile, and hits the road until he can determine his next move. On the way from El Paso to Mexico, he discovers he's being followed by ex-special ops agent Chigurh (an eerily calm Javier Bardem). Chigurh's weapon of choice is a cattle gun, and he uses it on everyone who gets in his way--or loses a coin toss (as far as he's concerned, bad luck is grounds for death). Just as Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a World War II vet, is on Moss's trail, Chigurh's former colleague, Wells (Woody Harrelson), is on his. For most of the movie, Moss remains one step ahead of his nemesis. Both men are clever and resourceful--except Moss has a conscious, Chigurh does not (he is, as McCarthy puts it, "a prophet of destruction"). At times, the film plays like an old horror movie, with Chigurh as its lumbering Frankenstein monster. Like the taciturn terminator, No Country for Old Men doesn't move quickly, but the tension never dissipates. This minimalist masterwork represents Joel and Ethan Coen and their entire cast, particularly Brolin and Jones, at the peak of their powers. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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