We occasionally have the feeling that a Coen brothers film is an elaborate in-joke that they are playing on everyone else but each other – not so with this spare, grim and visually dazzling story. Let me say also that I do not know the book it was based on, and am not particularly a fan of thrillers or choreographed movie violence, but “No Country for Old Men” drew me in from the start. The plot is as simple one of those ancient Greek dramas, of hubris and judgment, of human archetypes, of evil, honor and redemption, and very black dark humor.

Out hunting in the west Texas desert, one blistering hot day in 1980, good ol’ boy Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) comes across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone horribly wrong; dead bodies of men and dogs, abandoned cars and guns… and 2 million dollars. Llewellyn, a partly-employed welder and Vietnam veteran, lives in a trailer park with his young wife. Why not take the money? Who would ever know? But it soon appears that someone does know that he has a case full of cash, – and he wants it back and Llewellyn Moss dead. That would be Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem); a sociopath with a faultlessly polite manner, right up until the time he casually executes his victims with a air-driven cattle-killing bolt gun. Following Chigurh is the wry and weary Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) and for the rest of the movie, the three of them pursue each other, back and across the border, circling tighter and tighter around each other and the satchel full of money – but almost never appearing in the same frame.

Practically nothing that happens in this movie is telegraphed beforehand; there are not even any musical cues. In fact there is hardly any music at all. The violence is curiously understated; sometimes it happens off screen, or is only implied. Mostly we are faced with the aftermath; one of the most unsettling sequences is of Chigurh performing rough surgery upon himself in a cheap hotel room. The sense of place is unerring; yes, this is what west Texas looks like; the desert and the rivers, the little stores next to the gas pumps along the highway, the café and the small-town business block. In fact, they are so little changed that my daughter and I did not realize that the story was set in 1980 until quite a good ways into the movie. Aside from no one using a cell phone, and driving junky old cars, we would never have guessed at all that it was not a contemporary setting.

There are only three bonus features: a collection of interviews with the actors and technicians about working with the Coen brothers, a “Making of “ feature and a close-up called “Diary of a Country Sheriff” – all of which run together indistinguishably, but still offer some interesting background to the main feature.

No Country for Old Men is available from Amazon.com and other retail outlets after March 17th.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com.

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