The Coens’ No Country for Old Men

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I finished work early yesterday and went to the Laemmle in Santa Monica to catch a matinee of the Coen brothers’ new film, No Country For Old Men, their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel by the same title. The story is about a welder named Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who stumbles on a handful of dead men in the Rio Grande, along with a bag full of cash–about 2 million dollars. He takes the cash, setting off a chain of events, which, although easily guessed at, are nevertheless completely suspenseful. On Moss’s trail are a psychopathic killer (Javier Bardem), a sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), an assassin (Woody Harrelson), and a handful of unnamed Mexican drug dealers. (Unnamed, and undeveloped as characters, something that is true also of two of the three females in the book.)

In some ways, the Coen brothers’ adaptation remedied a couple of the problems in McCarthy’s otherwise excellent novel. One is that a crucial scene that resolves what happens to Moss is missing from the book, but not from the film. The other is that, in the book, it’s easy to miss the fact that the story is set in 1980 (the date is hinted at the beginning, but not mentioned again until about halfway through the novel.) Obviously, in the movie, the sense of time was immediately clear. The film also gives us the pleasure of hearing McCarthy’s pitch-perfect dialogue spoken by talented actors. (You know how, after watching Fargo, you left the theater and tried to speak like Frances McDormand? You’ll be doing the same with Tommy Lee Jones in No Country.) But there are also ways in which the Coen brothers’ movie doesn’t quite compare with the novel. The one female character, for instance, that did something other than plead with a man or serve him food or coffee ended up being cut entirely from the film. Still, the level of craft that went into making this adaptation is really, really remarkable. Not to be missed.

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