No Country for Old Men: 10th Anniversary

It’s been ten years since the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Upon it’s release, it received unanimous appraisal and accolade. It is the first movie from the directing siblings to be taken from a literary source in its entirety, in that of Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy. Admittedly, not entirely McCarthy’s best work, yet, it managed to provide the foundation to the Coen’s most prolific film since Fargo. Ten years on and it still stands to be the Coen’s most successful film, fortified by it’s numerous awards including an Oscar for Best Picture, beating There Will be Blood, another high contender that year.

I still remember when it was released.  The opening scene with the nefarious Anton Chigurh (a mop-haired Javier Bardem) choking the life out of a Texas Ranger using the handcuffs chained to his wrists. The rubber from the Ranger’s boots scorching the vinyl of the cop-shop floor as he kicks his way through the final moments of his life. I remember it being one of the most raw and unprovoked pieces of film I have ever seen. I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be good’.

‘O.K., I’ll be a part of this world’

The Coen’s were, at the time, attempting to adapt the novel To the White Sea by James Dickey when producer Scott Rudin bought the film rights to No Country and presented it to them. They were naturally attracted to McCarthy unconventional approach and subverting genre. But it also bared significant resemblance to their first movie, Blood Simple, which also featured a remorseless killer like Chigurh.

When Javier Bardem was approached for the role of Chigurh, he spoke to the Coens on the phone. He told them that he ‘didn’t drive, he didn’t speak very good English and he hates violence.’  The Coens simply replied, ‘That’s why we called you.’ It’s safe to say Bardem was less than impressed with his new haircut.

‘What’s the most you ever lost from a coin toss?’

The Coens managed to stay marginally faithful to the source material when writing the script. Sometimes page for page. However it has been noted that a substantial amount of the dialogue verbatim has been removed from the text. This, among many things, only empowered the cinematic structure and the performances from its actors. The lack of dialogue gave the Coens the opportunity to introduce their most prominent character, the unforgiving landscapes of the Texan desert. A place so vast and lawless that anything could happen to you out there and no one would know. Not for a long while anyway.  It reminded me of Ridley Scott’s Alien, bizarrely. Out there, no one can hear you scream.

Josh Brolin, who plays the man-on-the-run Llewelyn Moss, spoke to Collider about his fears of playing a character with so little dialogue;

‘I mean it was a fear, for sure, because dialogue, that’s what you kind of rest upon as an actor, you know? Drama and all the stuff is all dialogue motivated. You have to figure out different ways to convey ideas. You don’t want to overcompensate because the fear is that you’re going to be boring if nothing’s going on. You start doing this and this and taking off your hat and putting it on again or some bullshit that doesn’t need to be there. So yeah, I was a little afraid of that in the beginning.’

The one thing the Coens are specifically known for is attracting an impressive cast and No Country doesn’t disappoint. The narrative is three fold; Brolin’s luckless cowboy, Bardem’s relentless killer hot on his heels and Tommy Lee Jones’ perfect fit as the steadfast Texas Ranger, picking up the pieces as they unfold. Although each of the characters feature predominantly in the cast, they never actually share a scene face to face. Jones, out of the three, has the least screen time even though in McCarthy’s version it is very much his story.

‘He’s seen the same things I’ve seen, and it’s certainly made an impression on me.’

Adapting novels in Hollywood is common practice but it is a rarity when literary work of such critical mediocrity creates an exceptional film. Perhaps that is a testament to the Coen’s talent as directors and screenwriters but it is almost like they were supposed to work with this material. Talking as a fan of the Coens and Cormac McCarthy, it is rare that I have seen the pair approach a story with such artistic vigor.

What proceeded No Country was a collection of films which expressed their diverseness, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, True Grit and Inside Llewyn Davis.  All exceptional films in their own right but never quite created the same impact. It made me wish that they would turn out more of McCarthy’s works.  Something the pair have been quite open to in the past, but something that has yet to formulate.

Is No Country for Old Men one of your favourite Coen movies? Do you think it still stands the test of time? Do you actually feel like an old man now you know it’s ten years old? I do. Send us your comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.