2007. Starring Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.
Good vs evil, circa 1980. Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) no longer understands the capacity for evil in his fellow human beings. He feels overmatched. The aging end of a line of gritty Texas lawmen, he struggles to admit to himself that “the dismal tide” is about to overtake him and his kind. “I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job,” he intones as the film begins. “But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, ‘O.K., I’ll be part of this world.'”
When Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds $2 million in cash in the midst of a drug deal gone bad, he pushes his chips forward and begins the chase that occupies the majority of the film. Following him is a relentless and remorseless killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), whose devotion to fate allows him to make life-or-death decisions based on the toss of a coin.
Chigurh is definitely a striking presence in the film (although too much is made of the haircut — this was 1980, you know — there were worse haircuts), but he likely feels familiar to fans of Cormac McCarthy, who wrote the novel on which this film is based. Chigurh, like the Judge in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, personifies the distilled evil that can be found walking around disguised as man. As Chigurh reminds us, “You know how this is going to end.” Still, the film’s ending proves that we still don’t.
I’m not going to give anything away. But after a second viewing, I don’t find a false scene in this film. The acting is incredible, from the stars down to the most incidental characters. Long scenes pass without dialogue, and without need of any. The violence is realistic, distressing, disheartening. The dismal tide rolls in, and we are up to our knees in it before we realize it.
Tempted by retirement and haunted by his failure to right the world, Sheriff Bell relates a dream he’s had of his father, another lawman, carrying a “fire in a horn” and riding into the unknown darkness. Waiting for him down the trail. Like all of us who face down evil, or have tried, with varying degrees of success.