I came in to this movie knowing nothing about Cormac McCarthy. I hadn’t read the book this movie was based on. I hadn’t read The Road, nor had I seen the movie that was adapted from the book. What I did have, however, is knowledge of the Coen Brothers from seeing Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou. I can justifiably say that after seeing this movie, I couldn’t see anyone else doing this film. I don’t have this reaction with all films. Sometimes, when watching an film, I can sort of get ideas about how the film might look with another director – how John Carpenter might do the original Friday the 13th instead of Sean S. Cunningham for example. This, though, is a film only the Coen Brothers could do.
The film follows three characters, hunter Llewellyn Moss, sheriff Ed Tom Bell, and hitman Anton Chigurh (rhymes with “Sugar”). While hunting in west Texas, Moss comes across a drug deal that turned into a bloodbath. Among the carnage he finds a satchel carrying 2 Million dollars. Chigurh has been hired by the owner of the money to get it back. Finally, Sheriff Bell finds himself following in the wake of blood left by Chigurh’s passage in search of the money.
To use a crass analogy, Chigurh is like a somewhat amiable, fleshed out Jason Voorhees. Within the first 5 minutes of the story, he garrotes a police officer with a pair of handcuffs, and then kills a motorist with a captive bolt pistol (used for killing cattle), so he can take the man’s car. Now, Chigurh talks, and is on occasion nice to people – if we didn’t know about the trail of corpses that Chigurh left behind him and his generally being a psychopath, the scenes with Chigurh and the people he comes across who aren’t related to his hunt would seem somewhat pleasant. But because we know Chigurh’s past actions, the scenes become more suspenseful and more sinister. Even with Chigurh isn’t the center of the scene, when he’s in the background or out of focus, the scene becomes darker with his presence. Appropriately, the costume and makeup designers give the character a dark color palette to go with his dark hair, making him a big dark spot in the back of the shot, when he’s in the background, like Death himself.
Moss, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite of the horror movie and chase movie protagonist. He’s competent, intelligent, and pretty prepared. Everything the audience of a slasher movie would shout at the screen, he does and then some. While he isn’t Jason Bourne, he’s as skilled at setting up a safe house and going to ground as many Robert Ludlum protagonists. Consequently, at several points Moss very nearly gets the better of Chigurh and when he doesn’t defeat Anton, he at least provides enough of a setback to him that he can get some breathing room.
Finally, there’s Sheriff Bell. Because Bell is traveling in the wake of Chigurh and Moss, he becomes the Greek Chorus of the film. He becomes witness to the brutality left by Chigurh, and voices the audience’s shock and horror at their actions. Yes, I realize that’s the definition of a Greek Chorus, but since they’re not always teaching Greek Tragedy in schools these days, it’s helpful to mention what a Greek Chorus is.
This movie is certainly one of the Coen Brothers best films. I’m giving this movie a whole-hearted recommendation. As a note though, to those whose only experience with the Coen Brothers is Oh Brother, Where Art Thou and maybe Raising Arizona – this film is considerably closer to Fargo than those two films. Don’t come into the movie expecting that kind of comedy.