Departing from the comedic style that characterized many of their recent films, No Country for Old Men is an iconic drama-thriller that hearkens back to the Coen brothers’ early crime films. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, the 2007 film centers around the deadly cat and mouse game between Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) over lucrative drug money. The action-packed film has no score and minimal dialogue—allowing its viewers to take in the beauty of the Texas desert without feeling overwhelmed. Fifteen years later, the film feels just as special as it did the day it premiered.
When the film begins, different desert landscapes engulf the screen, displaying dry plains and mountain ranges. There is a stillness in the air that is almost palpable without any music playing over it, making each scene feel more desolate than the last. But in these silent moments we are reminded of characters like Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who exist and occupy these dusty spaces with homes and dreams of their own. With Bell recalling past jobs and his childhood, the film quietly creates a serene tone that is later contrasted by the sharp sounds of bullets and heavy violence.
But what makes this film fascinating is its duality. While at first we get scenes of the barren Texas desert, the second half of the film displays the areas of Texas where life actually thrives. These urban areas – including hotels, drug stores, and police stations – act as a playground where our two protagonists chase each other around. As one just barely misses the other, there is a focus on how Moss and Chigurh differ and how the two different countries of the United States and Mexico are portrayed in relation to the characters’ motivations.
The vastness of the desert allows for chaos and violence to go unnoticed, but in the city, the interactions between Chigurh and locals provide comedic relief that contrast the bloodshed up to that point. At the same time, the ability to laugh at such an ominous character like Chigurh is surprising and chilling, seeing as he is considered one of the most realistic psychopaths depicted on film. Another contrast is that of Texas and Mexico. In Texas, Moss is under constant threat by Chigurh and other forces but in Mexico, he is provided protection by Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) so long as he finds the money. In many TV shows and movies, Mexico is portrayed as violent or dangerous because of the cartel but in this film, the country acts as a refuge for Moss when he finds himself at a dead end.
As we celebrate the film’s 15th anniversary, we remember what makes this film so fun to watch is that it has become a staple of the Coen Brothers’ filmography that would go on to win four Oscars including Best Picture. From its terrifying and complex characters to its picturesque landscapes, the Coen Brothers show us exactly what a good action-thriller can look like without too much fuss. With talented actors like Brolin and Bardem, they are able to tell a story that has a slow rush of entertaining us while also bringing us along for the ride.
Kayla Melendez is a senior in the English Literature at FIU. Upon graduating, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life, as long as she is tan and happy. Naturally curious, she enjoys reading, writing, and watching films.