Sunday, 10 April 2011


No bones about it, as Anton Chigurh, Javier Bardem plays one of the scariest motherfuckers in movie history. If you thought that Antony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter was scary, Bardem is scarier by virtue of the fact that he is just human and not some super genius, just an utterly ruthless murderer who is totally lacking in empathy and any compassion. He is one of the greatest movie monsters ever. In one scene he terrorizes an aging shopkeeper into gambling his life (without ever saying that's what's happening) on the toss of a coin for no reason whatsoever other than it amuses him. There is no possible way of reasoning with him because he has already decided he's going to kill you and because (as seen in the first murder he commits) he enjoys it.

Well, this is the Coens big one: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Bardem). Four Oscars plus a further four nominations they failed to win. And it's not even their best film, though it is a pretty damn good one.

It's a three-hander between Tommy Lee Jones as the local sheriff, Bardem, and Josh Brolin who stumbles onto a drug-deal gone wrong and takes off with the money. And none of them ever really meet, though Brolin and Bardem do actually have a brief encounter and talk once on the phone. The plot is fairly simple. Jones tries to find out what's going on as the bodies pile up, Bardem hunts Brolin who tries to make sure that his wife (Kelly Macdonald, a long way from Trainspotting) is okay. The film basically cuts between the three protagonists until the surprising and strange ending.

In a sense, this is a very minimalist film: there isn't an awful lot of dialogue, the story itself is minimalist, a dance of fate, the music is sparse with some of the most intense scenes completely lacking any cues, and the ample shots of the wide Texas landscape are dry, almost desert-like in appearance. 

Despite being faithfully adapted from a novel by Cormac McCarthy, it slots easily into the Coens' oeuvre (pretentious, moi?) in terms of its themes of free will, chance, and fate. It's also their most violent film by far and easily as intense as Miller's Crossing (which I prefer because of its density.) As you'd expect, the acting is terrific and often very subtle, but Bardem dominates the screen.

Random Notes.

The critical consensus is that it's the Coens' best film to date. That it won four Oscars suggests, rightly, that it won a whole bunch of other awards, though the only BAFTA it took was for Supporting Actress for Kelly Macdonald (a home favourite).

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