A few years ago, when I was finishing my undergraduate studies at UConn, I wrote a long paper about three films by the Coen brothers: Fargo, True Grit and No Country for Old Men. The point of the paper was to analyze the films on the basis of their construction, rather than to provide any sort of emotional or critical reaction to them. By then, I had seen each of them several times, and would do so multiple additional times in order to compose the paper. I haven't revisited any of them since then, partially because of the subsequent films the brothers have made, as well as the fact that I had viewed them so many times.
With the space of several years between my viewings, I can still say that No Country for Old Men is among my favorite films of all time. Roger Ebert described both it and Fargo as "perfect films" and "miracles," and i don't think he is far off in his assessment. No Country is constructed in about as effective a way that any thriller has ever been, keeping you entranced in the story of an average man who gets swept up in extraordinary dangerous circumstances, not unlike a classic Hitchcock thriller. But whereas Hitchcockian wrong men were faced up against the forces of misunderstanding and the people around him, Llewelyn Moss seems to have stumbled upon a far more sinister and elemental foe: evil itself, which comes in the form of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).
Given the film's minor pedigree as a pedestrian thriller by revered American novelist, Cormac McCarthy, you'd expect No Country to have been adapted by a far less accomplished filmmaker than the Coen brothers. The novel reads more or less like a transcription of the screenplay, despite the existence of the novel two years before the release of the film. This is because the action moves so fluidly from one scene to the next, and the dialogue feels as if it was originally composed by the Coens themselves, who have a fascinated ear for specific American dialect and idiom. It is the movie's unlikely transition from run-of-the-mill murder mystery to Great Film that makes it of even more interest to me. There is a version of this movie that exists in a parallel universe in which a journeyman director like Brad Furman adapted McCarthy's novel a decade afters its publication, and everyone immediately forgot about it.
Thank goodness that didn't happen.