Back in 2007, The Coen Brothers swept the Oscars with No Country For Old Men, the bleak tale of a man who finds a briefcase full of money only to then be hunted by a madman. Based on Cormac McCarthy's novel, this was a return to darker territory for the Coens after a couple of more light-hearted efforts.
An exploration of young and old, good and evil, right and wrong, No Country For Old Men was maybe Ethan and Joel Coen's most serious and dense film since Miller's Crossing. It stood out mostly thanks to a chilling performance by Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, the psychopath with twisted morals who toys with innocents and kills people with an oxygen tank. Tommy Lee Jones' Texas Sheriff Ed is our good guy who desperately tries to make sense of this new unpredictable brand of evil that has landed on his doorstep and Josh Brolin's everyman Llewelyn is the one in the middle of it all who meant well but doomed himself and others by taking something that didn't belong to him. The film is an intense cat-and-mouse game with Chigurh slowly but surely hunting down his prey.
The thriller encompasses a lot of the themes The Coens have touched upon in the past in films like Blood Simple or Fargo with the simple townspeople finding themselves in the middle of some shady and violent goings-on but No Country For Old Men is a far more pessimistic take than anything they've done before. You never feel like Llewelyn ever stands a chance against Anton and that's because he doesn't: the heroes are completely surpassed by the villains in this story and, even when they show intelligence and resourcefulness, it's still nowhere near enough to match what they're facing. The tone is bleak throughout yet the film is paced so well, is so stylish and all the performances are so good that it never feels like a miserable experience. Plus its intense, suspenseful, almost silent Western-style sequences would make Quentin Tarantino jealous.
No Country For Old Men is certainly a must-see: it's not only one of the best serial killer movies out there but it's one of the smartest, most well-made and sharply written Coen Brothers films, and that's saying a lot. One of the rare cases where the Best Picture winner deserves every Oscar it got.