Classics of the New Millennium: "No Country For Old Men" (2007) with Isaac Feldberg

Classics of the New Millennium: "No Country For Old Men" (2007) with Isaac Feldberg

When was the last time you watched “No Country for Old Men” (⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐)? I saw it twice in 2007, the year it came out, and then two weeks ago while preparing for this podcast, and the intervening 15 years had cast a pall of dust on the experience of the movie that a revisit dispelled in a blast of bleak Texas wind. Is this the Coen brothers’ greatest two hours of film? I might argue that “A Serious Man” (2009 and a future candidate for this series) beats it by a nose, but we’re edging into personal preference here — both films show the merrie pranksters of indie film (or, as I like to think of them, the Sundance equivalent of Steely Dan’s Becker and Fagen) acquiring a cruel majesty and seriousness of purpose that had heretofore only been hinted at in “Fargo.” The Coens were known and beloved for their ironic, deadpan comedies, but the jokes in “A Serious Man” ascend to the level of Kafka, and “No Country” is as steady and unyielding as a myth. The movie’s basically three men in a desert landscape — three and a half if you count Woody Harrelson’s relatively brief appearance — but it plays like an epic on the death of the American soul, with a final cut to black that’s the equivalent of a coffin lid slamming shut.

Fittingly, my friend and critical colleague Isaac Feldberg and I talked about “No Country for Old Men” in the aftermath of Cormac McCarthy’s death on June 13. Of the author’s novels adapted to the screen, it’s hard to argue that this one isn’t the best, so true is it to the pared-down detail of the writing, its empathy and its juddering violence. The Coens are on record as saying they were drawn to the project because they felt McCarthy was a genre subversive like them — “No Country” is a western that short-circuits every cliche of the form — but the novel also served the brothers as a template for filmmaking techniques that by 2007 had been honed to a level of unparalleled invention and efficiency. You can watch this movie with the sound off and still be held in a fugue state of awe. But don’t do that: You’d miss the sociopathic purr of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, the hiss of his bolt pistol, and the mournful monologues of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who knows that the classic shootouts on Main Street have given way to random death out on the Miracle Mile.

“No Country for Old Men” is streaming on Amazon Prime and Paramount+, and it’s available for VOD rental in all the usual places — give it a watch if it’s been too long and then listen to Isaac and me go down a rabbit hole of appreciation and analysis. (Or watch us on YouTube, if you’d prefer.) It’s a movie whose pitiless message of chance and fate in modern America whispers louder than ever.

Thanks for listening! Have any thoughts? Want to suggest a movie for this series? Don’t hesitate to weigh in.

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