Coens' "Old Men" clicks with critics

CANNES, France (Reuters) - The senseless violence portrayed in the Coen brothers’ film “No Country for Old Men,” rated by critics as one of their best yet, is not meant to be a reflection of America today.

U.S. directors Joel (2nd L) and Ethan Coen (L), and cast members Kelly Macdonald (3rd L), Javier Bardem, and Josh Brolin (back) leave the gala evening screening of the Coen's film "No Country for Old Men" at the 60th Cannes Film Festival May 19, 2007. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Set in 1980 along the U.S-Mexican border, the movie follows three men brought together in a bloody triangle and manages to do so with deadpan humour delivered in heavy Texas drawls.

Tommy Lee Jones plays an ageing sheriff struggling to make sense of the killings around him, and wondering if the world is changing for the worse or if he is simply getting too old for the job.

Spanish actor Javier Bardem is his nemesis, a mysterious killer who is searching for $2 million missing after a drug deal along the border goes wrong and a shootout ensues.

Saying little, sporting arguably the worst haircut in cinema history and deciding people’s fate by the toss of a coin, he is mindless violence personified. His main target is a hunter-turned-hunted, played by Josh Brolin.

Based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, the movie manages to mix extreme violence with comedy, and the audience at a weekend press screening in Cannes laughed loudly throughout.

Ethan and Joel Coen, whose movies include “Barton Fink” and “Fargo,” played down any association between the film and the kind of violence making headlines in the United States today.

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“I think pointedly he (McCarthy) does not make the novel contemporary, because I think what he’s after in the novel is something which is not about contemporary social commentary at all,” said Joel, who with Ethan won Cannes’ top prize in 1991 for “Barton Fink.”

“But what he’s talking about in the novel is the perspective from the characters of ageing and looking at the world, and that’s sort of a universal thing,” he told Reuters.

Jones’ character ponders “what happens when you grow older and you look at the world and think that it’s changing, it’s all gone to hell in a handbasket, and how much of that is a reflection of what is really happening and how much is a reflection of old age.”


Bardem, who admitted he did not enjoy his “pudding-bowl” haircut as much as working with the Coens, said in an interview that violence could not always be rationalised.

“I think the movie speaks of a lack of meaning in violence,” he said. “I embody violence, I am violence itself in the movie, and there is a man ... who is trying to understand the meaning of it, and at the end there is no meaning.”

Critics have warmed to the part-Western, part-crime thriller, and it is among the early favourites to take away the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize.

In trade magazine Screen International’s informal poll of Cannes critics, “No Country For Old Men” shares the early lead with Romania’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” although most of the 22 movies in the main competition have yet to screen.

Variety magazine’s Todd McCarthy calls the Coens’ movie “one of their very best.”