No Country for Old Men: The Oscar-Winning Best Picture of 2007

Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men. Courtesy of Miramax

No Country for Old Men is the 2007 Western film that earned the Coen Brothers their first Best Picture win at the Academy Awards.

I missed the film during it’s initial theatrical run. It’s not the only 2007 film that I missed in theaters. I would later watch the film on DVD after renting through Netflix. However, this did not come until December 2009. A lot of it goes back to scheduling conflicts and trying to see as many awards contenders as possible in theaters. It was easier said than done in 2007.

The film would earn four Oscars in eight nominations. In addition to Best Picture, it took home Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem). Additionally, the film took home top honors at PGA, DGA, SAG, and WGA. Unfortunately, it was not a clean sweep for No Country for Old Men as BAFTA awarded that year’s Best Picture to Atonement.

The Coens follow three main characters: Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), and Terrell County sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones). Moss discovers money in the desert. Chigurh is on a mission to recover the money after escaping police custody. Meanwhile, Bell is–to nobody’s surprise–investigating the time. Supporting characters include Moss’s wife, Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) and bounty hunter Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson). In addition to looking for Moss, Wells is also on a mission to return the $2 million. Unfortunately for Wells, it does not end well for him. Meanwhile, Moss and Chigurh are basically playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Moss doing his best to stay ahead, not realizing the briefcase contains a tracking device. Anyway, a number of people are not coming out of this film alive.

The casting on this film is pretty solid. There’s a universe, however, where Mark Strong portrays Chigurh. After watching Bardem’s performance, it feels very hard to imagine Strong having the haircut instead. That’s not to say anything bad about Mark Strong as an actor but it shows just how much Bardem is associated with the role.

No Country for Old Men is a very different Coen Brothers film. There are lengthy sections of the film that do not contain any dialogue. At the same, Carter Burwell takes a very different approach with the film’s score. It’s very minimal, which is unusual for a thriller of this kind. Sound editor Skip Lievsay has commented on the film’s sound, saying it is “quite a remarkable experiment”:

“Suspense thrillers in Hollywood are traditionally done almost entirely with music. The idea here was to remove the safety net that lets the audience feel like they know what’s going to happen. I think it makes the movie much more suspenseful. You’re not guided by the score and so you lose that comfort zone.”

What’s interesting is that this is a period film and it takes place in 1980. But even going for movies in 2007, I didn’t necessarily think of a 1980 setting as being a period film. But in any event, it does make it tougher when it comes to clothing and props. I mean, look at phones, for instance. You have to go with landlines rather than cordless or cellphones. The funny thing is that it’s not much different today when it comes to a film taking place in the early 2000s–the key difference being the technology.

Given the Coen Brothers filmography, it comes as no surprise that they would make this film. Their adaption of the Cormac McCarthy novel is picture perfect. Anyway, it’s a darker film than their previous work. It’s not even a black comedy! In fact, it is a neo-Western crime thriller with a clear hero, villain, and then someone in between the two in a gray area. The brothers would make a true Western film in their remake of True Grit in 2010. In any event, they were really busy during the 2000s and going into the 2010s. Not counting the two shorts they directed for anthology films, they directed 8 films between 2000 and 2010. Their filmography would slow down a bit before going onto direct their own solo films.

Even though it’s an adapted screenplay, there are aspects of the film that draw parallels to their earlier work. Take Fargo and Raising Arizona, for instance. The former involves a cop investigating a crime while the latter features a bounty hunter. Just some food for thought.

No Country for Old Men is in the top tier of the Coen Brothers filmography and is among the best films they have ever made.

CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Barry Corbin, Stephen Root, Rodger Boyce, Beth Grant, Ana Reeder

Miramax released No Country for Old Men in theaters on November 9, 2007. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.