NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) – No movie for hopeful moviegoers

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(WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

I don’t know your opinion on gun control, but where Hollywood’s lack of imagination is concerned, I’d say there’s a serious need for it.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, which came out at the same time as this movie, seemed to ape The Departed‘s sense of total nihilism for its characters. Now there’s No Country for Old Men, which is excellent until its last half-hour, where it stops dead more quickly than its gunned-down characters.

Maybe it’s the latest trend in Hollywood scripting — call it deus ex militia. Kill off everyone at movie’s end — you’re spared some major writer’s block while being hailed for brilliant social commentary.

The sad part is that much of Men is engrossing, if often gross, filmmaking from veteran director/siblings Joel and Ethan Coen. The story concerns Llewelyn (Josh Brolin), who stumbles upon $2 million from a failed drug heist and plans to keep it for himself by any means necessary.

Quite eager to thwart Llewelyn’s scheme is Chigurh (Javier Bardem). His name is pronounced “sugar” with the second syllable accented, but by any name he’s just psychopathic evil. He missed latching on to the money just before Llewelyn did, and he means to assertively rectify that mistake.

The movie’s acting really is superlative. Supporting players Tommy Lee Jones and Woody Harrelson add gravity and wit to the proceedings, Bardem is appropriately chilling, and Brolin is the movie actor his more famous father, James, never was.

I think the movie’s defect is that it makes a promise it ultimately can’t keep. Llewelyn is the ultimate anti-hero. And despite his getting the money through nefarious means, if it’s a choice between him or Chigurh winning out, you’re definitely rooting for the former. (Jones’ character, a seen-it-all sheriff, seems to feel the same way.)

Then, in the last half-hour, the movie all but says: Hey, this isn’t a dark-comedy thriller but a treatise on life’s hopelessness. This is sorely underlined in the movie’s final scene, which harkens back to the Coens’ “dreams explain everything” ending from their comedy Raising Arizona. Only here, it’s presented without an ounce of irony, leaving us to stagger from the theater muttering, “Wha-?”

What a cop-out. It would be like Gene Autry tossing down his guns just before he caught the bad guy, and then pontificating on the pointlessness of existence. Or The Three Stooges getting a sudden attack of conscience about slapping each other, and then sensitively dressing each others’ wounds.

The message of movies such as No Country for Old Men is, life’s a b**** and then you die. If that’s the case, why waste our money on nihilistic movies before we go?

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