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No Country for Old Men


Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Tess Harper

Director: Joel Cohen, Ethan Coen

Three-quarters of a good movie that falls apart at the end, this much-heralded film from the Coen brothers is at times tense and exciting and at others disappointingly ponderous. Fortunately, the white-knuckle moments outweigh the rest.

At its best, No Country for Old Men resembles some of the widescreen, wide open spaces thrillers made by Don Siegel - but many of the scenes involving Jones as the sheriff on the case are terminally slow. Two conversations, between Jones and his wife (Harper) and Jones and his father (Barry Corbin) at the end of the film may send you to sleep.

Fortunately, the main body of the story is taken up with the tense pursuit of opportunist Texan Brolin (the best thing in the film) by merciless killer Bardem (a chilling performance, if an early contender for the year's worst haircut), who uses a macabre variety of weapons to blow his victims' brains out.

It's 1980, and Brolin, out in the desert scrubland hunting antelopes (he's a rotten shot), comes upon a scene of carnage involving burnt-out cars, several dead bodies, a suitcase full of money and a fortune in drugs. Taking the cash, Brolin soon becomes the prey of Bardem. who is somehow involved in this as well as being on the run from the law.

This part of the film is continually gripping, as Brolin and the loot keep a precarious half-step ahead of Bardem's body-strewn path. Freelance investigator Harrelson is hired to track them both down, but he doesn't last long - although, when Bardem comes up behind him on a hotel staircase, you wonder why Harrelson doesn't throw himself at him, knowing he'll be killed once they're alone.

And it's a pity we don't see the culmination of the cat-and-mouse game at the film's centre, although Bardem's kills do become repetitive even when they're not shown. There's the occasional laconic line - 'It's a mess, ain't it sheriff?' comments deputy Garret Dillahunt at the initial bloodbath. 'If it ain't.' muses Jones, 'It'll do 'til the mess gets here.' The film could do with more of this, especially from Jones, whose tired, laidback portrayal is the opposite of what the story needs. Brolin's high-adrenalin performance, though, is so good, that it's a shame his character gets short-changed at the final reckoning.

David Quinlan

USA 2007. UK Distributor: Paramount (Paramount Vantage/Miramax). Colour by deluxe.
123 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 1, Swearing 0.

Review date: 12 Jan 2008