No Country For Old Men (2007)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Rating: 1 2 3 4 5

Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss in No Country For Old Men

'It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?' drawls the nice but dim Texan deputy, surveying the flyblown bodies of a gang of Mexican drug runners.

'Well if it ain't, it'll do 'til the mess gits here,' signs world-weary small town sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones).

But in fact 'mess' is the last word I'd use to describe this beautiful, stark, poetic film. Billed as a thriller, No Country For Old Men certainly ticks all the right boxes (average American trailer dwelling schmuck stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and walks away with two million dollars – and a single-minded, psychotic hitman on his tail). But it's a million lonely, dusty miles away from the slick Hollywood thrillers that usually populate the multiplexes.

Likewise, if you're looking for a tragic-comic caper in the style of Raising Arizona or  O Brother Where Art Thou you'll be out of luck, as the Coen brothers have gone and gotten all grown up.

This is film-making at its most pure, stripped bare of flashy, choppy-cutty camera work, John Woo slow-mo, a soundtrack or even a traditional beginning-middle-end plot – anything that might draw attention towards the artifice of movie making and away from the gruff, sun-bleached, strong, silent characters and endless, arid desert scenery. Put it this way: you won't see anyone in this film firing two guns in the air while jumping sideways.

What you will get is sudden bursts of edge-of-seat, gun-blazing violence, strung on a taut skein between beautifully honed dialogue as sparse and pertinent as a short story by E Annie Proulx and unexpected moments of dry black humour that don't so much ease the tension as twang it like a banjo string.

Javier Bardem as psychopathic hitman Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men

And as for the performances – well, if there's an Oscar for best barking mad psychopath then Javier Bardem has it in the bag. With his bizarre Monkees wig and big, soulful eyes, his is the most terrifying hitman you will ever see, an inexorable force of nature that cannot be stopped.

Kudos also to Josh Brolin as the killer's monosyllabic, self-sufficient target, Woody Harrelson as the cocky ex-army general charged with the unenviable task of reining him in, and Tommy Lee Jones as the old man who no longer sees a place for himself in this harsh country, yet who's left to clean up the mess.

Dark and spare and hauntingly beautiful as the desert in which it's set, brusque and self-contained as its central characters, No Country For Old Men is an absorbing, uncompromising and perfectly crafted film. If there are no Oscars for No Country then there's no justice either – and won't that be a mess.

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