No Country for Old Men, the darkest, bleakest film yet by Joel and Ethan Coen, manages to be both an unsettling thriller and a statement of great concern for the future. As has always been the case with Joel and Ethan's work, the movie is cast to perfection. Javier Bardem's personification of psychotic evil fills the screen with an unflinching power -- it's as impossible for the audience to look away from him as it is for his victims to get away from him. Josh Brolin plays the Vietnam veteran who kick-starts the plot with a perfect mix of practicality, durability, and quiet desperation. You can believe he's seen enough horrible things during his years in the military that he's willing to go toe-to-toe with someone as malignantly evil as Bardem's remorseless killer. As Brolin's wife, Kelly MacDonald serves up a vivid, tragic character with very little screen time. Tommy Lee Jones centers the film as a Texas sheriff who notes early on that the old-timers never even wore a gun on the job. He longs for a time like that, and although he is a man not prone to emotional displays, his recognition of the horrors he sees registers in unmistakable ways.
The Coens build the tension like the masters that they are, often going minutes without any dialogue. What sets this film apart from their others is the refusal to let their comedic impulses temper the material. As always, they get chuckles out of the Texas patois, and there are characters on the fringe who stick in the memory because of their distinct speaking patterns. However none of the levity breaks from the remarkably serious intentions or tone. The one scene Kelly MacDonald shares with Bardem echoes the final confrontation between Frances McDormand and Peter Stormare in Fargo. But where that film offered some hope, some sense that there is an essential rightness in the world worth preserving, No Country is about the world we know coming to an end. Those expecting a pure genre film may be taken aback by the final act, especially since the first 100 minutes rank as an expert thriller. Consisting primarily of extended dialogue scenes, save for one last shocking act of violence, the closing passages of the film underline the themes that Jones' character lays out in the movie's opening voice-over. In Fargo, Margie grieved because she realized not everyone has the simple decency not to kill. No Country for Old Men is an expression of mourning for a world that seems to have lost any semblance of decency or order.