No Country for Old Men is an intense, brilliant, and incredibly frustrating film. For the better part of the movie, Joel and Ethan Coen compose a Hitchcockian nail-biter in which a peerless psycho (a Best Supporting Actor nod-worthy Javier Bardem) goes after money stolen by a retired welder (a revelatory Josh Brolin) as a world-weary sheriff (a routinely fantastic Tommy Lee Jones) follows their trail.
Toward the end of the movie, something unusual happens. (I'm going to speak in vague terms to avoid spoilers.) Basically, the brothers say, "Okay, you know that movie you've been watching? We're not going to end that movie. We're going to end the movie that you're really watching, that maybe you didn't know you were watching, but, if you were paying attention, you really were."
Okay, maybe that's too vague.
The movie that you think you're watching is a white-knuckle neo-noir Western. The movie that you're really watching, and the Coens remind you of it from time to time, is The Seventh Seal.
No Country for Old Men is a meditation on mortality and fate masquerading as a superbly crafted thriller. The trade-off for this brilliant charade is the equivalent of thriller blue balls. The movie seems to be building toward a particular ending with particular roles for the main characters to play out but, because the brothers refuse to compromise the integrity of their themes (or, more to the point, because they want to truly exploit them), the themes get a release that the plot does not.
Because the movie is so concerned with the idea that the only predictable thing about death is its inevitability, the narrative boldly becomes a demonstration of that very concept. Like I said, it's brilliant. But does that make for a satisfying movie-going experience?
Yes and no.
When I saw it at a preview screening, the initial audience reaction when the credits rolled was a palpable sense of disappointment. I felt it, too. I wanted something else. But having digested it for a while now, I'm not sure that something else would have actually been better.
And that's why I admire the hell out of No Country for Old Men, even though I'm still not 100 percent sure exactly how I feel about it.
I definitely want to see it again. That, in combination with the fact that I'm still thinking about it days later, makes it a success already.
So if you don't mind (or seek out) movies you have to chew on, even struggle with, get on this. (And, if it's any incentive, this review will make a lot more sense after you've seen it.)