Even the New York Press‘ Armond White likes the Coen brothers’ "No Country For Old Men," adapted from the novel by Cormac McCarthy: "It would be pathetic to reduce/praise No Country as a thriller. The Coensâ€™ technique goes far beyond that. Moss, Chirgurh and Bellâ€™s appointments with mortality lift the film from plot mechanisms to a confrontation with fate." Solid to delirious praise from most of the rest of our usual round of critics. We particularly liked this, from A.O. Scott at the New York Times:
[T]he most lasting impression left by this film is likely to be the deep satisfaction that comes from witnessing the nearly perfect execution of a difficult task. â€œNo Country for Old Menâ€ is purgatory for the squeamish and the easily spooked. For formalists â€” those moviegoers sent into raptures by tight editing, nimble camera work and faultless sound design â€” itâ€™s pure heaven.
"’No Country for Old Men’ is as good a film as the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, have ever made, and they made ‘Fargo,’" adds Roger Ebert. "This movie is a masterful evocation of time, place, character, moral choices, immoral certainties, human nature and fate. It is also, in the photography by Roger Deakins, the editing by the Coens and the music by Carter Burwell, startlingly beautiful, stark and lonely." From Scott Foundas at the LA Weekly:
It’s easy to imagine how the Coens, whose Achilles’ heel has always been their predilection for smug irony and easy caricature, might have turned McCarthy’s taciturn Texans into simplistic western-mythos archetypes: the amoral criminal, the righteous peacekeeper, and the naive but basically good-hearted rube in over his head. Instead, they’ve made a film of great, enveloping gravitas, in which words like "hero" and "villain" carry ever less weight the deeper we follow the characters into their desperate journeys.
Keith Phipps at the Onion AV Club deems the film "a strong return after a few years off" for the Coens, while Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly writes that the film "reverses [their] slide into arch pastiche, brilliantly." Glenn Kenny at Premiere suggests that "the picture represents a high-water mark for the Coens. It’s their best picture, and could well turn out to be the best picture of the year." And of the ending, which goes in directions you might not expect, Michael Koresky at indieWIRE writes that "The Coens close the film with what might be the most take-your-breath-away ending since Richard Linklater both refused and granted our wishes with "Before Sunset"’s final fade-out."
Among the less-sold: Anthony Lane at the New Yorker is impressed by the technical skill of the film, but is left emotionally cold: "[T]here remains a nagging sense that the Coens are not so much investing their emotions in a cinematic genreâ€”in this case, the Western revenge dramaâ€”as picking it up, inspecting it, and then setting themselves the task of constructing a perfect copy." So is Slate‘s Dana Stevens, who declares that "while it may be their most ambitious and successful film in years, remains just a Coen brothers movie, a curio to collect rather than an experience to remember." Stephanie Zacharek at Salon adds that the film "feels less like a breathing, thinking movie than an exercise."
David Edelstein at New York calls it "a near masterpiece" but also "a cosmic bummer": "No one, not even Jonesâ€™s sheriff, has comparable weight, and so, in the end, cruelty, chaos, and resignation swamp everythingâ€”including the Coensâ€™ evident delight in their crackerjack thriller set pieces and soulfully weird actors." Andrew Sarris at the New York Observer echoes that "I cannot look at it and write about it in any other way than as an exercise in cosmic futility," though he concludes that he’s not sorry he saw it. And Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader writes a fascinating if frustrating pan in which he essentially deems the film’s perceived nihilism a kind of perverse panacea for a troubled national psyche. He places Chigurh alongside Hannibal Lecter as figures that are "a savior of sorts, a saintlike holy psycho who made us feel less uneasy about wanton slaughter," writing that "the picture of human nature in No Country for Old Men is… so bleak I wonder if it must provide for some a reassuring explanation for our defeatism and apathy in the face of atrocity."
As for us, we’ve shrieked our love for this film out enough already. Our review from Cannes is here; we’re eager to see how it’ll do at the box office. It’s hard to believe any other film this year will receive comparative praise, but it also seems a little too dark, too strange for mainstream or award success. We’d love to be proven wrong.