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‘Country’ a cinematic gem

The lives of three strangers intersect with life-altering results following an act of tremendous violence in the cinematic gem “No Country for Old Men.”

A relaxing day of hunting produces far more than Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) would dare to have dreamt. Trailing his wounded prey, he stumbles upon a scene resting eerily in its recent savagery. The bodies of several men and dogs lie strewn between the silent hulks of their trucks in the deserted Texas landscape. Llewelyn quickly surveys the scene, and after finding a truckload of wrapped drugs, surmises that one hombre must have been the “last man standing” and heads off following his easily found trail.

Llewelyn returns home with a satchel containing 2 million dollars and puts a plan into motion to help himself and his wife Carla Jean (Kelly McDonald) retire. Little does he realize that the rightful owners of the money have hired an immovable object to hunt down the missing cash.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) lives by his own code of conduct and considers himself judge, jury and executioner of that same code. As a complete sociopath, Chigurh easily puts himself in position to collect the money for himself and heads off with his horrifying array of armaments to collect it.

In the middle of this hunt is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a mild mannered lawman steeped in the tradition of Western law. As he is nearing retirement, Bell is starting to feel the world pass him by. The violence and lack of moral center he sees so often has slowly eroded him, yet he charges into the breach one more time. The question is: Can he grab up the stubbornly proud Llewelyn and make him understand the force of nature on his tail before they are all struck down by the storm’s might?

Joel and Ethan Cohen have brought life to Cormac McCarthy’s stellar tale in a manner that would make any other shed a tear of joy. They have created a classic contemporary western rich in the heritage of the Old West but colored with the depressed shades of post-’70s Texas.

A cast of superb cameos, most notably Woody Harrelson and Stephen Root (“Office Space” and “Dodgeball”), surround the three main cogs in this machine: Brolin, Bardem and Jones. Brolin nails the tight-lipped Texan Llewelyn, most handily breathing life into his gritty pioneer spirit. Jones and Bardem, however, suck up every ounce of tape with the veracity of a starved raptor. Expect Jones to garner another Oscar nod for his weathered lawman Bell. His sage advice and glib wit struggled to cover the breaking of a tired old man’s heart as the world he loved changed forever. Expect accolades for Bardem as well, as he is responsible for one of the most truly soul-chilling beings to ever walk onto the big screen. Chigurh rivals any villain, real or imagined, in the history of mankind, and Bardem was so right it was horrifyingly, brilliantly wrong.

I could not recommend this film any higher, and I’m confident Oscar voters will concur with nominations galore. With a careful mix of violence, unrelenting wills and overmatched heroism, “No Country for Old Men” proves that subtlety and intelligent writing can trump gratuitous imagery and Myspace banter (like, you know, wow). And that, my friends, is a country this old hand can peacefully reside in.

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