Good fortune found is always promising before bad fortune comes looking for it.
Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the grizzly scene of a shady deal gone very bad. Amidst the carnage he finds a sizable sum of cash and one gunman shot but alive. Llewelyn takes the cash but is smart enough to know someone may come looking for it, but he has no idea just how disciplined and resourceful his would-be assassin (Javier Bardem) actually is. With a small town sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) only a few steps behind and the safety of his wife (Kelly Macdonald) in doubt, Llewelyn must stay ahead of the law and his own death if he ever expects to cash in on his not-so good fortune.
The Coen brothers have a history of surreal storytelling, from the unappreciated (The Hudsucker Proxy) to the Award winning (Fargo) and the cult classic (The Big Lebowski) to the classic misstep (Intolerable Cruelty). These guys are very good at setting a stage and tone for their stories, but No Country for Old Men stands alone in meeting the perfect blend of realistic people in an unfathomable situation and the surreal experience of enduring the aftermath that follows.
This script uses the plot of what could have become any number of big budget action or adventure films. Instead, you get a powder keg with a slow-burning fuse that promises that what’s coming is not going to be something you want to see any more than you want it to happen. At every turn, that keg keeps getting larger and larger because you know what’s coming and you really hope you’re wrong, but neither can you look away. Incredible editing and amazing sound obscure the absence of ridiculous camera angles or overpowering music; this feels like it’s happening right now, and every moment is yours to dread while praying for an escape.
No single particular performance stands out, except perhaps the intensity of Kelly Macdonald in spite of relatively little actual screen time. Hearing Tommy Lee Jones lament about his years in law enforcement only adds another layer of thought to what is actually happening and why. Every person in this drama does their part and serves their purpose both in character and out, creating an experience that both speaks volumes about our so-called modern society while reminding us why those aging classic dramas without special effects and fiery explosions resonate even today. Remember: sometimes the best thing you can do when an opportunity presents itself is simply walk away.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)