Over the years, Joel and Ethan Coen have made a name for themselves as artists truly given to idiosyncrasy. And through the creation of such critically acclaimed crime dramas as Blood Simple (1984), Miller’s Crossing (1990), and Fargo (1996), it was with that very eccentricity and peculiar vision that these brothers have thrust themselves into the top tier of contemporary filmmaking. It should be considered, however, that they do not work exclusively with the gritty and the somber, having helmed such substantial comedies as O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), The Ladykillers (2004), and Burn After Reading (2008).
I loved each of the latter three works, but never cared much for their more serious efforts — a penchant completely flipped on its head by the viewing of No Country For Old Men. This 2008 Academy Award winner for best picture was the finest piece of cinema I’ve ever come across. From the acting and directing, to the cinematography and screenplay, this work somehow grabs, entrances, and then releases its audience with a feeling of almost painful emptiness (indeed, almost all Coen brothers films seem to evoke this feeling, including their comedies.).
The plot unfolds in 1980 west Texas, perfectly fitting the story for all its haunted, isolated air. While hunting in the desert, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) comes across the grisly aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong, sets out to find the last man standing, and soon falls upon him – very much deceased – clasping a satchel full of money. Upon taking the dead man’s bag, Moss ignites a chain of reactions that will forever alter the lives of an unfortunate handful of people. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) attempts to save Moss from the forces he’s provoked. But Bell knows that his good intentions must eventually face his disillusionment — culminating in one of the most bizarrely quiet and immeasurably epic showdowns ever captured on screen.