"The good-old days..."
"The way things used to be..."
"Kids these days..."
These sentiments all echo the inevitable relationship between the older generation and the young one growing up in its footsteps. The old fades away and a newer, harsher reality wells up in its place - all in unceasing wave after generational wave.
This relationship between past and future plays a central role in the Coen Brothers' film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country For Old Men," a film which meditates on the nature of change.
Set in South Texas during the 1980s, the film follows the events which unfold in the wake of a botched drug deal in the desert. Happening across the scene while hunting, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) discovers a truckload of heroine and a case full of cash amid the bullet-ridden dead. He takes off with the cash but is soon pursued by both a crew of Mexican hitmen and the enigmatic Anton Chigurgh (Javier Bardem), who dispatches those in his way with ruthless efficiency.
As the chase unfolds, dragging in a host of lawmen, scoundrels and innocent bystanders, local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) begins to piece together what has happened and ruminates on the tide of violence he sees rising around him.
Much of the film's story arc details Moss' struggle to get away clean with the money and Chigurah's relentless pursuit - and with this the Coen Brothers manage to deliver a truly nail-biting thriller. But while the hunter and hunted are caught up in the storm of violence, it is Sheriff Bell who witnesses the wreckage in their wake. He contemplates what is happening and, clearly troubled, tries to make sense of it in relation to the seemingly simpler times he grew up in.
There's a point in the film where a more traditional movie, firmly chained to the conventions of genre, would have gone a more established route - but instead, the plot branches out in another direction, frays into contemplation on violence, mortality and the passing of time. Many filmgoers will likely be thrown for a loop at that point in the film, some perhaps even angered, but the film delivers in doing what all great art sets out to do: not providing the viewer with answers, but with deeper questions.
Delivering their first film since 2004's "The Lady Killers," Joel and Ethan Coen bring a starkly beautiful, almost film noir Texas to life on the screen. There is a feeling of desolation and loneliness in many of the scenes, as the filmmakers use the massive scale of the American West to drive home the isolation afflicting the characters in the film.
The film positively bristles with excellent performances, flavored here and there with the kind of colorful bit-part casting the Coens have become known for, adding a tinge of innocent Americana to the corners of the film world. And just as the character of Sheriff Bell encapsulates the film's heart, it is Jones' haunted performance that stands out the most - full of troubled uncertainty about the changing age.
"No Country For Old Men" is not simply a film that entertains, but a film that challenges viewers to ponder.
"No Country For Old Men" is rated R for strong graphic violence and some language. It has a running time of 122 minutes.