In the Coen Brothers’ latest film, “No Country for Old Men,” a down on his luck hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong and finds two million dollars. At long last, the destitute man thinks, fate has smiled upon me. However, by taking the money, he unwittingly becomes the target of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) a relentless killer who sets out to find Moss and retrieve the money.
Fate’s a funny thing.
I went into “No Man” with some trepidation. Of late, the Coen Brothers’ movies have been nothing more than slapsticky hokum. “O Brother Where Art Thou?,” “The Lady Killers” and “Intolerable Cruelty” were populated by dim bulb caricatures designed to be nothing more than punchline delivery systems. In returning to the deadly serious Texas noir of “Blood Simple,” the Coens have created characters so undeniably human that they come close to breaking your heart.
Moss is the perfect noir protagonist, the everyman succumbing to irresistable temptation that eventually threatens to destroy him. Moss’ decision to keep the money and go on the run stems not from greed, but from a dogged stubbornness. He’s an unemployed Vietnam vet forced to hunt in order to put food on the table. Fate has taken everything else away from him, and, Goddammit, it’s not going to take away this.
Bardem’s Chigurh begs to differ. He is the most chilling monster to come out of American cinema in a decade. In his unblinking gaze, there is no glimmer of mercy or uncertainty. He is terrifying, because his murderous tendenices are not in service of greed, politics or pride. He cannot be bought off. He cannot be flattered. He is an agent of fate itself; Moss’ windfall has thrown the universe out of balance, and Chigurh intends to right the scales… even if he has to kill every single man, woman and child in East Texas to do it.
And while sad-eyed, old Sheriff Bell tries to save Moss from Chigurh, all he can do is watch helplessly as the inevitable mayhem ensues. Tommy Lee Jones’ Bell is the polar opposite of Deputy Gerard, the brilliant, driven manhunter Jones played in “The Fugitive.” While Gerard had all the answers and knew just what to do, Bell seems completely outmatched by the brutal Chigurh. In the end, the old man accepts that he is powerless to change fate, whether it be Llewellyn’s or his own. And in that wisdom, he finds a kind of grace.