“I’m fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but I’m goin anyways. If I don’t come back tell Mother I love her.”
“Your mother’s dead Llewelyn.”
“Well I’ll tell her myself then.”
For the Coen brothers’ first-ever adaptation of another writer’s work, they found an author whose terse, wry, gritty dialogue is a perfect match. Cormac McCarthy’s book about a man who finds a case full of money at the scene of a drug deal gone very, very wrong is ideally suited for the Coen brother’s understated talk and striking visuals.
This is the Coen brothers’ four-time Oscar-winner, including best picture, adapted screenplay, and director. Four men walk through this movie. All have eyes that have seen more than they’d have liked to and have learned lessons that hit them hard. Llewelyn (Josh Brolin in a star-making performance) is the Vietnam vet who comes upon a group of dead bodies, a pile of heroin and an almost-dead man begging for water and realizes that somewhere there has to be a last man standing. He tracks him, and finds him dead, too, with the money. Llewelyn takes it.
Three men come after him: hitman Anton Chigurh (Oscar-winner Javier Bardem), who likes to kill with the compressed air bolt gun used to slaughter cattle and who will bet a man’s life on the toss of a coin, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), who thinks he can sort things out without anyone getting killed or arrested, and sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a tough guy who suspects that all the toughness he has ever known will not be enough for a new kind of threat. He knows that you have to be willing to die to have his job, and that is all right. But what he is trying to figure out is whether you have to be willing to become, whether you have to be willing to “put your soul at hazard.” And that he is not willing to do.
The dialogue is plain, even miminal, but pointed. “Be careful,” Bell’s wife says. “Always am.” “Don’t get hurt.” “Never do.” Don’t hurt no one.” “If you say so.” “I think we’re looking at more than one fracas,” Bell says, surveying an array of bodies.
This helps to anchor a story rich with visual complexity. The heel marks on the floor made by a flailing man who is being strangled create a Pollock-like flurry of frantic black marks surrounding the ultimate stillness of the dead body. Dualities flicker through the story. Milk. Boots. Hunting and being hunted. Borders. And order vs. chaos. Endless vistas. Trusting people. And very, very bad things that happen even if they do not make sense.
Joel and Ethan Coen get a lot of credit for their visual flair and their dark and twisted sensibility, but they do not get the recognition they deserve as directors of actors. They work with superbly talented people, but they get the best from them. Every character is rich and compelling. And the story they tell is not just dark and twisted; it is elegaic.
Parents should know that this movie includes extremely intense peril and graphic violence with grisly and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, constant strong language, some sexual references, drinking, smoking, drug dealers.
Family discussion: Were you surprised by the end of this movie? How does it relate to the title? Does this movie have a hero? Who? Families should read the poem by Yeats that inspired the title.
If you like this, try: the book by Cormac McCarthy, Desperado, and other Coen brothers movies like Blood Simple and Fargo.