No Country for Old Men

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(2007) ★★★★★

Film4: Sunday 7 June, 11.25am and 8pm

The Bafta and Oscar Best Picture winning thriller No Country for Old Men was good enough to triumph over Paul Thomas Anderson’s outstanding drama There Will Be Blood and David Fincher’s incomparable Zodiac. (Hilariously, the Golden Globes went with Atonement.)

Put together, all three of these modern classics show how weak the Oscar line-ups have been in the years ensuing. No Country – a dark reflection of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – is put together with the ruthless precision of an Alfred Hitchcock masterclass.

Set in west Texas, 1980, it’s the leanest, meanest movie Sam Peckinpah never made. And it stars the magnificent Tommy Lee Jones, gruff as ever but kindly. “Is that a true story?” queries Kelly Macdonald. “Well, I don’t know about the details,” says Jones, “but it’s true that it’s a story.” Though he’s proud to come from a long line of lawmen, retirement can’t come soon enough for Jones.

The sheriff in a sparsely populated county of cattle-ranches and small dusty towns, Jones is shocked by the violent criminals running drugs from the Mexican border. “Crime you see now,” muses Jones, as upright and unyielding as Joel McCrea’s marshal in Ride the High Country, “it’s hard to take its measure.”

Trailer-park Vietnam vet Josh Brolin takes its measure quickly enough, chancing upon a drug deal gone sour under the scorching sun. Taking off with the money, Brolin is pursued across Texas by Mexican bandits. And they are being tracked by Javier Bardem, a bulging-eyed killer with a pudding basin haircut. He’s as relentless as Lee Marvin in Point Blank, but scarier. Because Bardem’s working to his own unexplained agenda. Weirdly principled and motivated by chance, not design or desire.

In this sense, he’s whimsical which, in a psychopathic killer, is downright scary. Because there’s no right answer to any of his questions. “Are you going to shoot me?” asks a murder witness. “That depends,” says Bardem. “Do you see me?” Playing a kindlier version of the character he played in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Jones is overwhelmed by the violence of the crimes he’s investigating. “What you got ain’t nothin’ new,” chides his uncle Barry Corbin, a crippled ex-lawman. “This country’s hard on people.” The Coen brothers’ triumphant Oscar-winning drama is a magnificent modern-day western.

Its harsh, wild landscape, strewn with corpses bloating under storm-cloud skies, is depicted with all the expansiveness of Peckinpah’s Tex-Mex frontier pictures, while the grim and laconic humour in this particular setting recalls the Coens’ debut feature, Blood Simple. No Country is brightly lit but bleak and baleful, a force of nature. If there’s such a thing as sunshine noir, then the Coens have just invented it. And we’d all like to be taken care of in this hard, unforgiving country. But, please, by the paternal shepherd Jones speaks of in his dream, not the pitiless, shadowy reaper embodied by Bardem.

Certificate: 15
Duration: 122min

Other Showings Date & Time
Sky Movies Select Thursday, 11 June at 11:35AM
Sky Movies Select Thursday, 11 June at 8:00PM