2007-11-30 / Columnists


'No Country For Old Men' - Coens' Psycho Western
Review By Robert Snyder

In 1969, there was an early "psycho western" called, "The Stalking Moon." It was scary and slickly made, by none other than director Robert Mulligan, and starred Gregory Peck. Both had scored major success with "To Kill a Mockingbird." It was criticized as politically incorrect. And that was almost 40 years ago.

The social gripe was that the story pitted a righteous, square-jawed, white, male Army scout (Peck) against a "psycho" Native American in the 18th century west. The "bad Indian" was wily and almost faceless, striking in the dark of night.

Still, he had reason to attack. The Peck character was protecting a pretty white woman (Eva Marie Saint), mother to the Stalking Moon's half-breed son, also protected by Peck's noble scout.

In the Coen Brothers' new film, "No Country For Old Men," there are three square-jawed white male heroes, up against a stalking psycho killer who, while not ethnically identified, is decidedly non-Caucasian. The difference between Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and the Stalking Moon is that the Coens' killer has a completely amoral motivation: He is in relentless pursuit of a suitcase filled with $2 million of illegal drug money.

Chigurh also doesn't care who he kills, simply anyone who stands in his way, even by accident. His weapon of choice is a compressed air tank hooked to a retractable blow-dart device used for slaughtering cattle. He often applies it to good-hearted folks who try to help him out along barren West Texas highways.

The Coens seem to like this guy. He ultimately wins in the end, if you call killing and not getting caught, winning.

Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, "No Country For Old Men" is beautifully photographed, thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins. It basically follows ex-Vietnam vet/welder Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) as he discovers and takes the case of money from the corpse-ridden aftermath of a drug deal gone bad in the desert, circa 1980.

Most of the movie chronicles the cat-and-mouse escapades between Moss and Chigurh, with fill-in appearances by Tommy Lee Jones as world-weary sheriff/ narrator Ed Tom Bell and Woody Harrelson playing wise-guy hired gun, Carson Wells.

The Joel and Ethan Coen film has yet to be called politically incorrect. However, it appears to be to anyone who may remember that movie, a far bloodier "Stalking Moon."

Some things haven't changed since the '60s.

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