Unpredictable 'Country' a strong return for Coens

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Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers. If you stop to think about it, it's a wonder they've never teamed up before.

Javier Bardem plays a mysterious killer in No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's book.  Associated Press
Associated Press
Javier Bardem plays a mysterious killer in No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's book.

The writer and the moviemakers share so much in common: a love of language, a drive to develop rich characters, an appreciation for the importance of a vivid sense of place and an innate ability to tell stories that take you in unexpected directions.

No Country for Old Men marries the men's strengths in ways that are deceptively simple and profoundly moving, set against a harshly beautiful, seemingly endless expanse of scrub-brushed West Texas.

It's vintage stuff for the writing-directing brothers, Joel and Ethan, a return to the location of their 1984 debut, Blood Simple , and the tone of their masterpiece, Fargo . It's their best work in a while, and it's probably going to be the year's best movie.

In adapting Mr. McCarthy's 2005 novel about crime and carnage along the Rio Grande, the Coens stay mostly faithful to its structure while maintaining much of the author's rhythmically clipped, colorful dialogue.

If you've read the book, you'll be pleased; if you haven't, wait until after you've seen the film to do so. Allow yourself to be engrossed by its unpredictability.

Set in 1980, No Country follows three men tied together by a big-money drug deal gone wrong.

Josh Brolin is perfectly cast as Llewelyn Moss, a stoic welder and Vietnam veteran who stumbles on the botched transaction's bloody aftermath, finds a briefcase with $2 million and makes off with it. Mr. Brolin presents a rugged everyman blessed with more instincts than brains.

Javier Bardem is chilling as Anton Chigurh, the mysterious, murderous psychopath stalking Llewelyn to get the cash back. With his bowl haircut and the coin he flips to give his potential victims a chance to bet on their lives, Mr. Bardem has given us one of the great, inspired turns of movie villainy. You have no idea where he might go from scene to scene with this character, but you can bet something bad will happen.

Tommy Lee Jones is firmly in his element as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who's tracking them both and lamenting the loss of a more honorable way of life. The lines in his face, the deadpan sarcasm in that seasoned twang of a voice, the no-nonsense look in his eyes -- clearly, Mr. Jones could have played this part in his sleep. Thankfully for us, he didn't.


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