No Country for Old Men
For their first literary adaptation, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (sharing the duties of screenwriting and direction) turn to Cormac McCarthy’s novel with mutually beneficial results: The Coens subdue McCarthy’s tendency toward macho neo-Western posturing, and his spartan prose won’t let them crouch behind their usual affected irony. Josh Brolin plays a West Texas Vietnam vet who swipes a suitcase full of cash from a drug deal gone wrong. Javier Bardem plays the calmly menacing murderer on his tail. Tommy Lee Jones plays the wistful lawman on his tail, and on the verge of retirement. All three deliver winning, straightforwardly eloquent performances, set like gems in the directors’ magisterial silence and Roger Deakins’ landscape-loving cinematography. For all its literary manners, though, No Country for Old Men also satisfies genre preoccupations—to wit its generous, highly cinematic helpings of suspense and violence. It’s not quite the masterpiece everybody wants to call it, but an impressively well-controlled picture.