No Country for Old Men (film)

No Country for Old Men (film)
No Country for Old Men

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Produced by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Scott Rudin
Screenplay by Joel Coen
Ethan Coen
Based on No Country for Old Men by
Cormac McCarthy
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Javier Bardem
Josh Brolin
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Editing by Roderick Jaynes
Distributed by Miramax Films
Paramount Vantage
Release date(s) November 9, 2007 (2007-11-09)
Running time 122 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $25 million
Box office $171,627,166

No Country for Old Men is a 2007 American crime thriller directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin. The film was adapted from the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name.[1][2] No Country for Old Men tells the story of an ordinary man to whom chance delivers a fortune that is not his, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama, as three men crisscross each other's paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas.[3] The film examines the themes of fate and circumstance the Coen brothers have previously explored in Blood Simple and Fargo.

No Country for Old Men has been highly praised by critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it "as good a film as the Coen brothers...have ever made."[4] The Guardian journalist John Patterson said the film proved "that the Coens' technical abilities, and their feel for a landscape-based Western classicism reminiscent of Anthony Mann and Sam Peckinpah, are matched by few living directors."[5] The film was honored with numerous awards, garnering three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).



West Texas in June 1980 is desolate, wide open country, and Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) laments the increasing violence in a region where he, like his father and grandfather before him, has risen to the office of sheriff.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), hunting pronghorn, comes across the aftermath of a drug deal gone awry: several dead men and dogs, a wounded Mexican begging for water, and two million dollars in a satchel that he takes to his trailer home. Late that night, he returns with water for the dying man, but is chased away by two men in a truck and loses his vehicle. When he gets back home he grabs the cash, sends his wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) to her mother's, and makes his way to a motel in the next county,[6] where he hides the satchel in the air vent of his room.

Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a hitman who has been hired to recover the money. He has already strangled a sheriff's deputy to escape custody and stolen a car by using a captive bolt pistol to kill the driver. Now he carries a receiver that traces the money via a transponder concealed inside the satchel. Bursting into Moss's hideout at night, Chigurh surprises a group of Mexicans set to ambush Moss and murders them all. Moss, however, one step ahead, has rented the connecting room on the other side, so by the time Chigurh removes the vent cover with a dime to grab the cash, it is already back on the road with Moss.

Tracking the satchel to a border town hotel, Chigurh's pursuit climaxes in a firefight with Moss that spills onto the streets, leaving both men wounded. Moss flees across the border, collapsing from his injuries and waking up in a Mexican hospital. There Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), another hired operative, offers protection in return for the money.

After Chigurh cleans and stitches his own wounds with stolen supplies, he gets the drop on Wells back at his hotel and kills him just as Moss calls the room. Picking up the call and casually raising his feet to avoid the spreading blood, Chigurh promises Moss that Carla Jean will go untouched if he gives up the money. Moss remains defiant.

Moss arranges to rendezvous with his wife at a motel in El Paso to give her the money and send her out of harm's way. She reluctantly tells Bell to try to save her husband, but Bell arrives too late. He sees a pickup carrying several men speeding away from the motel and finds Moss lying dead in his room. That night, Bell returns to the crime scene and finds the lock blown out in his suspect's familiar style. Chigurh hides behind the door of a motel room, observing the shifting light through an empty lock hole. His gun drawn, Bell enters Moss's room and notices that the vent cover has been removed with a dime and the vent is empty.

Bell visits his Uncle Ellis (Barry Corbin), an ex-lawman. Bell plans to retire because he feels "overmatched," but Ellis points out that the region has always been violent. For Ellis, thinking it is "all waiting on you, that's vanity."

Carla Jean returns from her mother's funeral to find Chigurh waiting in the bedroom. When she tells him she does not have the money, he recalls the pledge he made to her husband that could have spared her. The best he will offer is a coin toss for her life, but she says that the choice is his. Chigurh leaves the house alone and carefully checks the soles of his boots. As he drives away, he is injured in a car accident and abandons the damaged vehicle.

Now retired, Bell shares two dreams with his wife (Tess Harper), both involving his deceased father. In the first dream he lost "some money" that his father had given him; in the second, he and his father were riding horses through a snowy mountain pass. His father, who was carrying fire in a horn, quietly passed by with his head down, "going on ahead, and fixin' to make a fire" in the surrounding dark and cold. Bell knew that when he got there his father would be waiting. Then he woke up.


  • Tommy Lee Jones as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a laconic, soon-to-retire county sheriff on the trail of Chigurh and Moss.
  • Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, a hitman hired to recover the missing money. The character was a recurrence of the "Unstoppable Evil" archetype found in the Coen brothers' work, though the brothers wanted to avoid one-dimensionality, particularly a comparison to The Terminator.[7] The Coen brothers sought to cast someone "who could have come from Mars" to avoid a sense of identification. The brothers introduced the character in the beginning of the film in a manner similar to the opening of the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth.[8] Chigurh has been perceived as a "modern equivalent of Death from Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film The Seventh Seal."[9] Chigurh's distinctive look was derived from a 1979 photo from a book supplied by Jones which featured photos of brothel patrons on the Texas-Mexico border.[10] After seeing himself with the new hairdo for the first time, Bardem reportedly said, "I'm not going to be laid for three months." Bardem signed on because he had been a Coens' fan ever since he saw their debut, Blood Simple.[11]
  • Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, a welder and Vietnam veteran who flees with two million dollars in drug money that he finds in an open field in Texas.
  • Kelly Macdonald as Carla Jean Moss, Llewelyn Moss' wife. Despite having severe misgivings about her husband's plans to keep the money, she still supports him. Macdonald said that what attracted her to the character of Moss was that she "wasn't obvious. She wasn't your typical trailer trash kind of character. At first you think she's one thing and by the end of the film, you realize that she's not quite as naïve as she might come across."[12]
  • Woody Harrelson as Carson Wells, a cocky bounty hunter and acquaintance of Chigurh hired to recover the drug money.
  • Garret Dillahunt as Deputy Wendell, Bell's inexperienced deputy sheriff assisting in the investigation and providing comic relief.
  • Tess Harper as Loretta Bell, the sheriff's wife, who provides reassurance in his darker moods.
  • Barry Corbin as Ellis, a retired deputy shot in the line of duty and now wheelchair-bound. He acts as a straight-talking sounding board to his nephew, Bell.
  • Beth Grant as Agnes, Carla Jean's mother and the mother-in-law of Moss. She provides a little comic relief despite the fact that she is dying from "the cancer."
  • Stephen Root as the Man who hires Wells, a mysterious figure who apparently was involved in the financing of the drug deal and the search for the money. He hired Wells, Chigurh and the Mexicans.
  • Gene Jones as Thomas Thayer, an elderly rural gas station clerk with good fortune, as his call on Anton's coin flip saves his life.
  • Brandon Smith as a stern INS official wearing sunglasses as he guards the U.S.-Mexican border. He lets Moss cross once he learns he was in the Vietnam War.

Themes and style

While No Country for Old Men is a "doggedly faithful" adaptation of McCarthy's 2005 novel and its themes, the film also revisits themes which the Coens had explored in their earlier movies Blood Simple and Fargo.[13] The three films share common themes, such as pessimism and nihilism.[14][15][16][17][18] The novel's motifs of chance, free-will, and predestination are familiar territory for the Coen brothers, who presented similar threads and tapestries of "fate [and] circumstance" in earlier works including Raising Arizona, which featured another hitman, albeit less serious in tone.[19][20] Numerous critics cited the importance of chance to both the novel and the film, focusing on Chigurh's fate-deciding coin flipping,[21] but noted that the nature of the film medium made it difficult to include the "self-reflective qualities of McCarthy's novel."[22]

In The Village Voice, Scott Foundas writes that "Like McCarthy, the Coens are markedly less interested in who (if anyone) gets away with the loot than in the primal forces that urge the characters forward... In the end, everyone in No Country for Old Men is both hunter and hunted, members of some endangered species trying to forestall their extinction."[23] Roger Ebert writes that "the movie demonstrates how pitiful ordinary human feelings are in the face of implacable injustice."[4]

New York Times critic A. O. Scott observes that Chigurh, Moss, and Bell each "occupy the screen one at a time, almost never appearing in the frame together, even as their fates become ever more intimately entwined."[24]

Variety critic Todd McCarthy describes Chigurh's modus operandi:

Death walks hand in hand with Chigurh wherever he goes, unless he decides otherwise .... [I]f everything you've done in your life has led you to him, he may explain to his about-to-be victims, your time might just have come. 'You don't have to do this,' the innocent invariably insist to a man whose murderous code dictates otherwise. Occasionally, however, he will allow someone to decide his own fate by coin toss, notably in a tense early scene in an old filling station marbled with nervous humor.[25]


Producer Scott Rudin bought the book rights to McCarthy's novel and suggested a film adaptation to the Coen brothers, who at the time were attempting to adapt the novel To the White Sea by James Dickey.[8] By August 2005, the Coen brothers agreed to write and direct a film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, having identified with how the novel provided a sense of place and also how it played with genre conventions. Joel Coen said of the unconventional approach, "That was familiar, congenial to us; we're naturally attracted to subverting genre. We liked the fact that the bad guys never really meet the good guys, that McCarthy did not follow through on formula expectations."[8][26] The Coens also identified the appeal of the novel to be its "pitiless quality." Ethan Coen explained, "That's a hallmark of the book, which has an unforgiving landscape and characters but is also about finding some kind of beauty without being sentimental." The adaptation was to be the second of McCarthy's work, following the 2000 film All the Pretty Horses.[27]


The brothers kept the script faithful to the book, only pruning the story where necessary.[8] The script was so faithful to the novel that Ethan described the screenwriting process by saying, "[O]ne of us types into the computer while the other holds the spine of the book open flat."[5] A teenage runaway who appeared late in the book and the backstory related to Bell were both removed.[7] Also changed from the source material was Carla Jean Moss' reaction when finally faced with the imposing figure of Chigurh. As Kelly MacDonald explained to CanMag: "The ending of the book is different. She reacts more in the way I react. She kind of falls apart. In the film she's been through so much and she can't lose any more. It's just she's got this quiet acceptance of it."[12]

The writing is also notable for its minimal use of dialogue. Josh Brolin discussed his initial nervousness with having so little dialogue to work with:

I mean it was a fear, for sure, because dialogue that's what you kind of rest upon as an actor, you know? [...] Drama and all the stuff is all dialogue motivated. You have to figure out different ways to convey ideas. You don't want to over-compensate because the fear is that you're going to be boring if nothing's going on. You start doing this and this and taking off your hat and putting it on again or some bullshit that doesn't need to be there. So yeah, I was a little afraid of that in the beginning.[28]


Actors Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones entered talks to join the cast in February 2006.[29] Jones was the first actor to be officially cast in No Country for Old Men. The Coen brothers felt that Jones fit the role since they wanted to avoid sentimentality and not have the audiences perceive the character to be a Charley Weaver type.[8] Praising Jones' credentials, the Coen brothers said, "He's from San Saba, Texas, not far from where the movie takes place. He's the real thing regarding that region." Joel Coen further outlined the directors' reasons for hiring Tommy Lee Jones in interview with Emanuel Levy:

There are just very, very few people who can carry a role like this one [...] Sheriff Bell is the soul of the movie and also, in a fundamental way, the region is so much a part of Sheriff Bell, so we needed someone who understood it [...] It's a role that also requires a kind of subtlety that only a really, really great actor can bring to it. Again, the list of these is pretty short, so when you put those two criteria together, you come up with Tommy Lee Jones. Being a Texan, the region is a part of his core.[30]

Josh Brolin joined the cast shortly after in April, prior to the start of production.[31] Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed Brolin's first audition for the movie on a Panavision Genesis camera during lunch while filming Grindhouse. However, Brolin was initially overlooked for the role of Llewelyn. Other actors had been offered the role, including Heath Ledger, who turned down the offer to take time off from acting.[32] According to Brolin, the Coens' only response to the audition tape was, "Who lit it?"[33] Brolin said it was only due to his agents' persistence that he eventually got a callback:

What I found out now was their last casting session, they were focused on a couple of actors. They called me the night before and they said, basically, no harm, no foul. 'Leave us alone, have him come down.' I studied a few scenes and I came down and I met them, and there was really no reaction in the meeting. I walked out thinking, 'It was great meeting the Coens. I'm a big fan. That's cool.' And by the time I got home I found out they wanted me to do it.[28]

Brolin broke his collarbone in a motorcycle accident a few days before filming was due to begin, but he and his doctor lied about the extent of his injury to the Coens and they let him continue in the role.[34]

The Coens later wrote a short tongue-in-cheek piece for Esquire magazine called "Josh Brolin, the Casting Mistake of the Year," in which they claimed to have believed that they had cast James Brolin in the role of the aging Vietnam vet, and upon realizing their mistake were forced to reset the movie in the year 1980, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to recast Tommy Lee Jones' role with Shia LaBeouf.[35]

Kelly Macdonald's agent originally wasn't sure she was right for the part of Moss' wife, and Macdonald is reported as having to "fight for the role."[36] She was ultimately nominated for a BAFTA for best supporting actress.


The project was a co-production between Miramax Films and Paramount's classics-based division in a 50/50 partnership, and production was scheduled for May 2006 in New Mexico and Texas. With a total budget of $25 million, production was slated to take place in the cities of Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as in the state of Texas. Filmmakers estimated spending between $12 and $17 million of the budget in New Mexico.[37] A movie set of a border checkpoint was built at the intersection of Interstate 25 and New Mexico State Highway 65.[38] The bulk of the film was shot in New Mexico, and primarily there in Las Vegas, which doubled as the border towns of Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Texas. The U.S.-Mexico border crossing bridge was actually a freeway overpass in Las Vegas. Other scenes were filmed around Marfa and Sanderson in West Texas, and the scene in the town square was filmed in Piedras Negras, Coahuila in Mexico.[39]

Cinematographer Roger Deakins, collaborating with the Coen brothers for the ninth time, spoke of his approach to the film's look: "The big challenge on No Country for Old Men is making it very realistic, to match the story. It's early days, but I'm imagining doing it very edgy and dark, and quite sparse. Not so stylized."[40]


One of the Coen brothers' influences was the works of director Sam Peckinpah. In an interview for The Guardian, they said "Hard men in the south-west shooting each other – that's definitely Sam Peckinpah's thing. We were aware of those similarities, certainly."[5] In an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Coens discussed choreographing and directing the film's violent scenes: "'That stuff is such fun to do', the brothers chime in at the mention of their penchant for blood-letting. 'Even Javier would come in by the end of the movie, rub his hands together and say, 'OK, who am I killing today?' adds Joel. 'It's fun to figure out', says Ethan. 'It's fun working out how to choreograph it, how to shoot it, how to engage audiences watching it.'"[41]

Josh Brolin discussed the brothers' directing style in interview, saying that the Coens "Only really say what needs to be said. They don't sit there as directors and manipulate you and go into page after page to try to get you to a certain place. They may come in and say one word or two words, so that was nice to be around in order to feed the other thing. What should I do right now? I'll just watch Ethan go humming to himself and pacing. Maybe that's what I should do, too.'"[28]

Musical score and sound

Unusually for a thriller, the Coens minimized the score used in the film, leaving large sections devoid of music. The concept was Ethan's, who persuaded a skeptical Joel to go with the idea. There is some music in the movie, scored by the Coens' longtime composer, Carter Burwell, but after finding that "most musical instruments didn't fit with the minimalist sound sculpture he had in mind [...] he used singing bowls, standing metal bells traditionally employed in Buddhist meditation practice that produce a sustained tone when rubbed." The movie contains a "mere" 16 minutes of music, with several of those in the end credits. The music in the trailer was called "Diabolic Clockwork" by Two Steps From Hell. Sound editing and effects were provided by another longtime Coens collaborator, Skip Lievsay, who used a mixture of emphatic sounds (gun shots) and ambient noise (engine noise, prairie winds) in the mix. The Foley for the captive bolt pistol used by Chigurh was created using a pneumatic nail gun.[42]


The title of the book and the film is taken from the opening line of 20th-century Irish poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium."[43]


Theatrical run

No Country for Old Men premiered in Competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival on May 19.[44] The film commercially opened in limited release in 28 theaters in the United States on November 9, 2007, grossing $1,226,333 over the opening weekend. The film expanded to a wide release in 860 theaters in the United States on November 21, 2007, grossing $7,776,773 over the first weekend. The film subsequently increased the number of theaters to 2,037.[45] The film opened in Australia on December 26, 2007, and in the United Kingdom (limited release) and Ireland on January 18, 2008.[46] As of February 13, 2009, the film has grossed $74,283,000 domestically (United States).[45]

Home media

Buena Vista Home Entertainment released the movie on DVD and in the high definition Blu-ray format on March 11, 2008 in the US. The only extras are three behind–the–scenes featurettes.[47]

The Region 2 DVD (courtesy of Paramount) was released on June 2. If purchased from the DVD comes with a set of limited edition art cards. HMV is selling the DVD in an exclusive Steelbook case. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the UK on September 8, 2008.

A 3-disc Special Edition with Digital Copy was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 7, 2009.


No Country for Old Men received universal acclaim. As of July 7, 2011, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes recorded that 211 of 223 (95%) critics gave the film a positive review,[48] while another, Metacritic, records an average score of 91%, based on 37 reviews.[49] The film was widely discussed as a possible candidate for several Oscars,[50][51] before going on to receive eight nominations, eventually winning four Academy Awards in 2008. Javier Bardem, in particular, has received considerable praise for his performance in the film. James Berardinelli gave it three-and-a-half stars, saying:

Expecting normalcy from a Coen Brothers production is a pointless endeavor, but anticipating brilliance isn't outlandish.... The story is full of unexpected twists and switchbacks, and opportunities for the audience to gear down and take a breath are few and far between. Like Alfred Hitchcock with Psycho, the filmmakers don’t want viewers to become too comfortable with any of the characters.... [Chigurh is] probably the most compelling screen villain since Anthony Hopkins brought Hannibal Lecter to life in The Silence of the Lambs.... And, while the ending may be a sore point for some, it will have others chuckling and nodding their heads appreciatively (albeit perhaps after a brief "WTF?" when the end credits begin to roll). That's what good cinema is expected to do.[52]

Roger Ebert went even further, giving it four stars. He said:

Consider another scene in which the dialogue is as good as any you will hear this year. Chigurh enters a rundown gas station in the middle of wilderness and begins to play a word game with the old man (Gene Jones) behind the cash register, who becomes very nervous. It is clear they are talking about whether Chigurh will kill him. Chigurh has by no means made up his mind. Without explaining why, he asks the man to call the flip of a coin. Listen to what they say, how they say it, how they imply the stakes. Listen to their timing. You want to applaud the writing, which comes from the Coen brothers, out of McCarthy.... This movie is a masterful evocation of time, place, character, moral choices, immoral certainties, human nature and fate.[53]

Anthony Lane of The New Yorker was more measured:

The Coens certainly honor the novelist’s abiding preference for the mythical over the modern.... So what do we end up with? Well, as a thriller, “No Country for Old Men” is tight, pointed, and immune to the temptations of speed. I found myself in the same predicament with the film as with the book—approaching both in a state of rare excitement, yet willing myself, all too soon, to be more engaged than I actually was.... We gradually realize that “No Country for Old Men” is not telling a tale—the plot remains open-ended—but reinforcing the legend of a place, like a poem adding to an oral tradition. Texas is presented as a state of being, where good and evil circle doggedly around each other, and it just doesn’t occur to Moss that he could take his black bag, catch a flight, and seek a world elsewhere. I was awed by the control of the movie, which seems as pressurized as Chigurh’s murder machine, but after an hour and a quarter I felt that it had made its point and done all the damage it could. In the event, it crawls past the two-hour mark, and you sense that the Coens, like their unkillable villain, are prepared to go on forever.[54]

Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post said:

You can't say it cuts to the chase. There was never anything to cut from to the chase. It's all chase, which means that it offers almost zero in character development. Each of the figures is given, a la standard thriller operating procedure, a single moral or psychological attribute and then acts in accordance to that principle and nothing else, without doubts, contradictions or ambivalence.[55]

Andrew Sarris said:

As for the nihilism on display in No Country for Old Men, the collaboration between the Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy was a marriage made in heaven or, more likely, hell.... I will not describe the narrative in any great detail both because I would be perceived as spoiling the “fun” of discovering the many surprises for yourself, and because I cannot look at it and write about it in any other way than as an exercise in cosmic futility. Yet, I’m not sorry I saw it over a running time of 122 minutes, just about the length of time I’d like to spend on a quick in-and-out visit to hell.[56]


Top ten lists

The film appeared on more critics' top ten lists (354) than any other film of 2007, and was more critics' #1 film (90) than any other.[63] Some of the notable critics' placement of No Country for Old Men are:[64]


No Country for Old Men was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture. Additionally, Javier Bardem won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role; the Coen brothers won Achievement in Directing (Best Director) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Other nominations included Best Film Editing (the Coen brothers as Roderick Jaynes), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.[67]

The film was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, winning two at the 65th Golden Globe Awards.[68] Javier Bardem won Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture and the Coen brothers won Best Screenplay – Motion Picture. The film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and Best Director (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen). Earlier in 2007 it was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.[69] The Screen Actors Guild gave a nomination nod to the cast for its "Outstanding Performance."[70] The film won top honors at the Directors Guild of America Awards for Joel and Ethan Coen. The film was nominated for nine British Academy Film Awards in 2008 and won in three categories; Joel and Ethan Coen winning the award for Best Director, Roger Deakins winning for Best Cinematography and Javier Bardem winning for Best Supporting Actor.[71] It has also been awarded the David di Donatello for Best Foreign Film.

Consonant with the positive critical response, No Country for Old Men received widespread formal recognition from numerous North American critics' associations (New York Film Critics Circle, Toronto Film Critics Association, Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Online, Chicago Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, Austin Film Critics Association, and San Diego Film Critics Society).[72][73][74][75][76] The American Film Institute listed it as an AFI Movie of the Year for 2007, and the Australian Film Critics Association and Houston Film Critics Society both voted it best film of 2007.[77]


In September 2008, Tommy Lee Jones announced that he was going to sue Paramount Pictures for $10 million, which he claims he is owed for his work on the film. Jones claimed he was not paid the correct bonuses and had expenses wrongly deducted.[78]


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