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'Country' Boys: Coen Brothers Out for Blood Again

A hunter, stalking a wounded deer in the Texas desert, comes across a scene of carnage: A drug deal gone wrong, corpses everywhere, $2 million in a suitcase. The hunter, played in No Country for Old Men by Josh Brolin, takes the suitcase — and knowing that he's about to go from hunter to hunted, he takes a few precautions, too, spiriting himself out of town in one direction, and his wife in another.

Unluckily for them both, a psycho with a Buster Brown haircut and a weird weapon of choice is already on the hunter's trail. The weapon — a compressed-air gun of the sort used for killing cattle in slaughterhouses — leaves no clues, which initially leaves the local sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) more than a little perplexed. But he'll eventually connect the killer and the hunter, and he'll prove pretty good at playing catch-up in a film that directors Joel and Ethan Coen have orchestrated as one long, seriously alarming chase sequence.

Like the early Coen Brothers films Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing, No Country for Old Men is a genre exercise — controlled, precise and exquisite in its imagery as it makes an audience cringe, pulses pounding. Javier Bardem, playing that murderous pursuer, makes humorlessness look scarily psychotic, and one hotel sequence is nerve-rattling enough to make you forget to breathe.

And despite working with a plot about implacable malice, the Coen Brothers don't ever overdo. You could even say they know the value of understatement: At one point they garner chills simply by having a character check the soles of his boots as he steps from a doorway into the sunlight.

By that time, blood has pooled often enough in No Country for Old Men that they don't have to show you what he's checking for.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.

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