Although Josh Brolin, playing Llewelyn Moss, is ostensibly the star of the Cormac McCarthy story, his faultless performance is overshadowed by that of Javier Bardem – the “hood” Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s performance is unquestionably the stuff of Oscars and every time he hits the screen the effect is electrifing. Seemingly inhuman (other than the time he spares the life of an old petrol station owner on the toss of a coin) he radiates evilness.
Set in Texas and on the Mexican border in 1980 the tale verges at times on the preposterous as a tangled web involving trailer trash opportunist, Moss, stumbles upon$2 million dollars as the result of a shoot out between rival Mexican gangs at the handover of a truck load of drugs. Instead of handing it into the police like any good boy would do he decides to keep it and there then follows an elaborate chase to get the money back, led by Bardem , The Mexican’s hired hand. It is much complicated by the simultaneous tracking of Moss by, but the other Mexican gang, a Private detective/hitman, Woody Harrelson, and a “whatever” Police Sherrif, the world and police force-weary Tommy Lee Jones who is nearing his retirement.
In the middle of it all sits the vulnerable and utterly convincing wife of Moss played beautifully by Kelly MacDonald. What a repertoire she has – her range is astonishing and she is quickly becoming one of Scotland’s greatest actresses ever.
The title is in some aways a parody. It’s difficult to reach old age in this racket and the deaths clock up on a regular basis. but also it represents the central theme of the movie which rotates around Thornton’s imminent retirement and the memory of his father, also a copper, who died young (in his 40’s).
It is a movie about death and has strong ethical and moral undertones. Although he has little screen time it is Thornton who is, in reality, the central protagonist as it is he who bookends the action with his reflections on life and its meaning.
The action is pretty grizzly but rarely gratuitous, as the Coen’s have chosen to direct it lightly – no great, epic cinematography – but great cinematography nonetheless, no music AT ALL – it’s almost a Hollywood Dogme film and that adds greatly to its impact.
Heavy-handed direction, big scores, florid cinematography; all would have turned the prepostrousness of the tale into a prepostrous movie. As it is, it succeeds effortlessly in being the movie the great mafia directors (Coppola, Mann, Scorsese) would die for. In the hands of Tarantino the film might have become a parody of the book.
The Coen Brothers are very, very good filmmakers. This is a very, very good Coen Brothers film.
9 out of 10.