Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Josh Brolin is Llewelyn Moss, a rugged Marlboro Man who comes across a scene of carnage in the desert while out hunting. This drug deal gone wrong leaves a case filled with 2 million dollars and no one alive to claim it, but when Moss returns to the scene of the crime after taking the money, he’s chased by the Mexicans there to do damage control and recover the money. Realizing his life is in danger, Llewellyn sends his wife Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald) into hiding as he goes on the run from the hired killer they send after him.
We first meet Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, an oddly calm Mexican with an oddly out-of-place Prince Valiant haircut, in the very first scene of the movie in which an unwitting police officer tries to bring him in, only to meet a grisly fate. We don’t know much about him, except that he’s been assigned to get that case of money back, something he does using a primitive tracking device hidden in the case and an air tank with a hose and a retractable bolt usually used to kill unhealthy livestock, but which he uses to knock out door locks.
Most of the film’s 2-hour running time is comprised of Moss being chased by Chigurh, every once in a while cutting back to Tommy Lee Jones as the local sheriff, who is mystified by the expanding body count all seemingly done by the same man who killed his officer. All three men are extremely resourceful, making the film that much more fascinating to watch them deal with various situations as they come up. One might try to argue which of the three key players is the focal point of the story, but Bardem’s clinically ruthless yet always smiling killer will leave the biggest impact, a movie baddie on par with Hannibal Lecter or Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet.” It takes almost an hour before we even learn his name or his reasons for acting the way he does, but much is revealed by a late player in the game played by Woody Harrelson, whose relationship with Anton is never quite clear. The most important information he shares comes when he points out bemusedly how Llewelyn is still alive despite having seen Chigurh, a rare occurrence.
The script is impeccable, easily some of the Coen brothers’ best writing, presumably taking McCarthy’s best bits and injecting their own flair for character dialogue. While far more serious in tone than some of the Coens’ other movies, they maintain their inimitable way at getting us to laugh at very dark and violent moments and at the odd menagerie of Southern characters who cross the path of our three leads. The best lines and monologues are given to Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones, the latter who proves to be a natural as a Coen Brothers character.
Fans of McCarthy’s novel might be surprised and delighted by how closely the Coens stick to the tone and plot of McCarthy’s novel, even if the film’s third act falters as key characters meet an inexplicable fate that’s likely to have many viewers scratching their head. With the timing of most of the events in the movie being equally obtuse, the Coens constantly keep us guessing what’s going to happen next, which adds to the film’s effectiveness as a suspense-filled crime-thriller of the highest order. Surprisingly, Kelly MacDonald, with a heavy Southern accent replacing her equally dense Scottish one, is far more integral to the story than one might expect at first, and in one particular sequence with Bardem, we see some of her best work.
Every bit of our attention is kept rapt to this visually stunning film by the perfectly-constructed shots of the Coens’ regular director of photography Roger Deakins (who also shot “The Assassination of Jesse James”), and the American wilderness along the Mexican border plays as important character as the Mid-West did in “Fargo.” Adding to the minimalist tone of the piece is the lack of any incidental music or score whatsoever, not one single note until Carter Burwell’s credit shows up at the end with some timely music that magically appears to accompany the end credit roll.
Still, one can’t help but marvel over the skillful way the Coen Brothers have crafted this adaptation of McCarthy’s work, likely to be considered amongst their classics for many years to come.