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Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men
Photo courtesy of Miramax Films



By Melynda Nuss

SAN FRANCISCO, 15 DECEMBER 2007 —The killer moves slowly, inexorably. He is not moved by sentiment, by interest, by loyalty, or by money. He has a strange sense of justice, but no sense of humor. If he sees you, he will kill you. That is all.

Watching No Country for Old Men, I began to realize how much Cormac McCarthy has changed as a writer since Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses . The older McCarthy embroidered his desolate landscapes with an almost Keatsian catalogue of beaded lizards, wildly dressed Apaches, forests of bone and sparkling, level blood-red sands. It was a desert for reading, not for seeing; the verbal beauty of the prose eclipsed anything that a director could do in a movie.

Now McCarthy’s model is Hemingway, not Faulkner. His landscapes and dialogue are terse in No Country for Old Men and his latest, The Road. The countryside is blank and vapid; his people waste no words in their struggle for survival. And as a review of The Road in The New Yorker noted, McCarthy’s world view has simplified as well. The world is blank rather than simply dangerous; bleak and without hope.

Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men
Photo courtesy of Miramax Films

Strangely enough, this text makes a better movie. On the wide-open grounds of southwest Texas, you can see death coming from a mile away. The only question is whether you can recognize if when you see it —  or better yet, stop it.

The plot of No Country for Old Men is a struggle between skill and chance. When Llewellyn Moss tracks an antelope he has flagged while poaching on open land, he follows the blood trail with the clean eyes of a forensic pathologist; CSI without computer animation or elaborate machines. His hope is that he’s smart enough, careful enough, or brave enough to escape with the money. But against him are ranged the forces of nature and chance, personified by a killer powerful enough to knock out a steer, who amuses himself by offering his victims a chance to guess at the flip of a coin. The victim can’t know how it will come out, but he has to call it. But perhaps you know how it will come out after all.

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men
Photo courtesy of Miramax Films

I hesitate to say anything more about this movie, except that it has the Coen brothers’ patented sense of dark humor, enough plot twists to knot a rattlesnake, and an ending so perfect – and so literary and so perfectly framed —  that it leaves you with exactly the type of blank stare that the book so desperately wanted. With No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy may well have switched genres. The books —  in my humble opinion — are a more boring read. But the movies are priceless.

No Country for Old Men
By Cormac Mccarthy

Paperback: 320 pages
Vintage; Reissue edition (October 2007)
ISBN-10: 0307387135
ISBN-13: 978-0307387134

Melynda Nuss is a writer and an Assistant Professor of Romantic Literature and Drama at the University of Texas – Pan American. She last wrote on 3:10 to Yuma  for

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