West Texas is a violent lawless place, but according to No Country for Old Men, it's also filled with lots of good folks under siege. We know they're good because one of them (Josh Brolin) wakes up in the middle of the night to risk his neck bringing water to a drug runner he left for dead earlier in the day. We know this because Tommy Lee Jones loves his wife (Tess Harper), and there are no greater icons of cinematic rectitude and probity that those two. Plus, there's a wizened store owner whose integrity won't allow him to call a coin flip until he knows what the stakes are, and a mobile home park manager so bent on protecting her tenants' privacy that she stands firm in the face of the fiercest intimidation Javier Bardem has to offer.
Sadly, it's also 1980 and hordes of badass Mexican heroin smugglers have begun an incursion into this bucolic nirvana. Of course, as Barry Corbin reminds us, as recently as "nineteen-and-oh-nine" treacherous Indians wreaked barbarous havoc on good white folks who never had a racist bone in their land-grabbing bodies. No Country picks up just as the Golden Age of 1910-1979 winds down. It's a shameful time, one when smarmy Mexican gangsters take easy advantage of terminally ill white women and a murderous thug with an unpronounceable Eastern European name (a surplus of lame jokes make this point) operates with impunity.
In most ways, No Country is typical Coen brothers fare: Inventive violence, excellent cinematography and location work, good acting across the board, memorable set pieces, and all adding up to not very much. The final 15-20 minutes are as baffling and inexplicable as the many accolades this disappointing film has garnered. In fact, throughout the movie, characters appear and disappear without explanation. Sloppy transitions from one plot element to the next give the impression that whole hunks of the film were lopped out as wantonly as Anton Chigurh dispatches another victim. (The director's cut will no doubt fill in the gaps, but that would mean watching three hours of this claptrap.) And whatever happened to that pickup truck bed full of heroin?
In truth, No Country does add up to something: Racist, xenophobic drivel tarted up as art. All the long shots of llano estacado and Tommy Lee Jones' laconic wit can't change the final image of the sociopathic Chigurh pressing on like a zombie from Night of the Living Dead. The immigrants are coming and, well, as Chigurh might say, the Coen brothers think they know how it's going to end and it won't be pretty. Praise the movie if you will, but call it for what it is, friend-o.