No Country for Old Men

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      Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, and Tommy Lee Jones. Rated 14A.

      In a season of magisterial westerns, No Country for Old Men stands out for its economy, intensity, unforgettable dialogue, and sublime ensemble acting.

      The two-hour tale, credited to brothers Ethan and Joel Coen as writers and directors, is adapted from Cormac McCarthy's same-named novel. Set in 1980 and full of exquisitely gruesome details, the film carries the Coens back to their genre roots of Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing , rarely pausing for the kind of stylish tricks, verbal riffs, or surreally comic set pieces that have characterized their recent work. (And that's not counting commercial duds like Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers .)

      Much of the new movie's pleasure is in its pitch-perfect casting. Tommy Lee Jones is, of course, ideally suited to play a jaded rural sheriff who is unprepared to cope with what turns up as the War on Drugs litters the Texas border with bodies. Josh Brolin is outstanding as an all-around hustler and Vietnam veteran who gets in over his cowboy-hatted head after stumbling upon the proceeds of a drug deal gone wrong.

      In a cast that also includes Kelly Macdonald as the hustler's too-sweet wife, Woody Harrelson as a swaggering bounty hunter, and Barry Corbin as a hard-bitten ex-deputy, the standout is Javier Bardem. Bardem leaves his usual admirable-fellow roles to play a hired killer who is the malevolent presence of death itself. Even with his comically asymmetrical hair–Bardem sometimes looks like a psychotic, coal-eyed Andy Kaufman–this guy raises the blood pressure of everyone in a five-mile radius. Or suddenly lowers it.

      As usual, the Coens maintain superb control of the technical details. They employ nothing but found sound and music to enhance Roger Deakins's cinematography, which ranges from sweeping to claustrophobic. And their rhythm has never been sharper, with some scenes building unbearable tension and other moments–even containing elements of key violence–tossed in casually, taking us back to the granite-faced detachment of Jones's sheriff. Of course, the man is not really made of stone. But the movie feels like it was carved from history.

      Link: No County for Old Men official site