The Red Right Hand

One Discovery Can Change Your Life. One Mistake Can Destroy It.

Ethan Coen
Joel Coen

Tommy Lee Jones
Javier Bardem
Josh Brolin

Like most Coen brothers films, this movie is both genius and a sure-fire box office bomb. If you were to go out on a Friday night and ask a handful of random cinema-goers about 2007's best films, you can almost guarantee only a handful would have heard of anything worth nominating for awards. No Country For Old Men is a very slow-paced, character driven western piece, discreetly set in 80's Texas - bunch of Mexicans and mumblers in big hats if you ask me but that's because I can't stand Texas.

The plot is a very distinct tale of three very different people brought together by one drug deal. The story starts as Llewellyn Moss [Brolin] ventures out on a hunting trip, only to discover a cluster of gunned-down drug dealers and a satchel containing two million dollars. Cautiously, Moss salvages any weapons, takes the money and makes his way home. Scott free but unable to sleep, Moss recalls a survivor who asked him for water and heads out to the desert. On arrival his truck is discovered by the Mexican dealers and he narrowly escapes. The second side to the tale is the journey of psychopathic hitman, Anton Chigurh [Bardem]. Brandishing a silenced shotgun, a high-power, compressed air tank and an incredibly wig-like haircut, Chigurh has been employed to track down the money, killing pretty much everyone he lays his eyes on. The final character is the aging county Sheriff, Ed Tom Bell [Jones]. Seemingly one-step behind each violent act, Bell is just trying to piece things together. Most audiences will be divided into those who appreciate this kind of film and those who find the pace far too slow. One of the reasons the plot seems so difficult is because it's based on a Cormac McCarthy novel - some consider McCarthy's work to be impossible to adapt.

Time for another annoying spoiler, so if you have yet to see this film, do proceed to the next paragraph Essentially, I would like to take a minute and explain what happens at the end. I love open endings, I really do. Don't get me wrong, sometimes certain films need a big payoff at the end but I think, if done correctly, an open ending can serve as more of an interesting, rewarding feature than any summation. So, for those who were frustrated or didn't get the ending, here it is, in full: Moss arrives at the motel in El Paso. Whilst talking to the lady at the side of the pool, it can be noted that he doesn't have the money; which has already been stashed in the air vent in his room. Shortly after this, the Mexican dealers arrive and kill Moss but leave in a hurry, unable to find the money. Bell arrives at the hotel and the whole area is cordoned off. Once everyone has left, Chigurh makes his way into the hotel room by blowing off the lock and extracts the money from the air vent (using a coin - a method seen earlier). Following this, Bell returns to the crime scene and notes the lock has been removed. He enters the room but for whatever reason, Chigurh lets him live. Bell realises this is probably the case and unable to cope with the stress and horrors of his job, decides it's time to retire. Some time later, Bell visits an aging relative (how they are related is never clearly identified) who explains that the world has always been as nasty and gritty as it is now, we just didn't hear/know about it as much. Further along the timeline, we witness Clara Jean's [Kelly McDonald] funeral for her mother. She comes home to discover Chigurh there who promptly kills her - she is shot in the book and although this is never directly shown in the film, Chigurh checks his boots for blood before leaving the premises. As Chigurh has already killed the man who hired him, we know that he keeps the money; this is confirmed, or at least alluded to, by the fact that he offers the kid $100 for his shirt. In the book Chigurh gives the money to a third party but as this is never expressed in the film, we can just assume he keeps it... and buys hair products. The final scene can be found on the last page of the book; it's Bell's way of saying that as he has now gotten older, he is concernedly wondering how he will be judged after he dies. And that's about it, boys and girls.

The visuals are typical Western wide-shots, showing off the open, rolling plains of Texas mixed neatly with tight, suspenseful internal settings (largely hotels). With regards to the score, it's probable that It was just intensely subtle but I must confess, I was so wrapped up in the plot that I didn't really notice it. The real boon of this feature is, of course, the acting. As with previous Coen films, the story is merely a vehicle for intensely strange, yet somehow believable and credible, characters to boast their unique qualities. Yet there is a downside, yes, you've probably noticed this film is not a perfect 10; there’s a reason for that. Although the endings were completely necessary, after the motel shoot-out, audiences will probably just want the movie to end neatly. I know it's unfair marking it down for that but it's an important piece; one of the final thoughts in most people's heads will be, that film was so bloody long. On a lighter note, I kind of didn't understand a lot of the film; I got the meanings, I held down the notions and conceptions but I just couldn't hear every word that was mumbling with that damn southern drawl. Yes, I'm a shallow critic; no, I don't care.

Release Date:
18th January 2008

The Scene To Look Out For:
Having taken a shot to the leg, Chigurh desperately needs to attend to the wound. His first stop is to rob a pharmacy with an eye-catching distraction before going back to a hotel room to operate on himself. The whole thing is very well done, perfectly mixing action, drama, comedy and tasteful yet wince-inducing gore - which is a good parallel to define the entire feature.

Notable Characters:
If you read my review for Mar Adentro a few years ago, you'll know how highly I think of Javier Bardem. However, his character could not be further from what he previously depicted. Anton Chigurh is an intensely focused killer who operates with a strict set of principles who neither offers nor takes quarter. He's possibly one of the most interesting cold-hearted on-screen murderers since Hannibal Lector.

Highlighted Quote:
"Well, all the time ya spend trying to get back what's been took from ya, more is going out the door. After a while you just have to try to get a tourniquet on it"

In A Few Words:
"Sensational slow-paced violent Neo-Western from the Coens; possibly their best since Fargo"

Total Score:

Matthew Stogdon