Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Balloons didn’t get blown into funny shapes in Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men, but the film revealed the ominous, chilling, quiet, pitch-black flipside of Raising Arizona.
A blend of bile-black humor, bloodstained landscapes and the slow decay of deals gone bad would seem to resemble Fargo. But just as the Arizona quints springboarded to commentary about social limbo and existential angst, so did drugs, guns and money in Country’s cat-and-mouse chase.
Its scurrying rodent: Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who takes a satchel full of millions at the scene of a drug deal gone bad. The clawed cat: Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in an Oscar-winning performance), a sadistic mercenary tracking the cash whose weapon of choice is a cattle gun and who seems somehow otherworldly. Tracking both is sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who’s always battled bad men, but never ones so frighteningly lawless as Chigurh.
Moss and Chigurh’s chases revisit Blood Simple’s lean, violent intensity — cinematic chokeholds of sound design, cinematography and slingshot pacing.
Brolin offers a study in silent, moralistic determinism. Bardem stamps strong psychopathic idiosyncrasies on Chigurh. And Bell generationally grapples with displacement in a world spinning toward anarchy. He’s afraid to understand, and, in an under-heralded performance, Jones shows Bell’s hesitancy in all his face’s wearied lines.
Bell figured prominently in a finale that frustrated many for its sudden, hard-cut deviation from conventionality. It took time to digest, but to paraphrase Arizona, this 2007 movie sure did take a bite.