A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this violent, mature crime drama from the filmmakers behind Fargo isn't for kids. Scenes include bloody wounds, jarring acts of aggression (shooting, fighting), and psychological abuse (the primary villain is especially unnerving in his calm demeanor, callousness, and ingenuity). Several scenes involve lengthy shootouts between characters with large guns, as well as contemplations of the bloody aftermath. You can also expect frequent references to drugs (the $2 million at stake is part of a heroin deal gone bad), some drinking, and language (the one use of "f--k" is by a young boy).
What's the story?
"Can't help but compare yourself against the old times." Pondering the changes between his father's generation and his own, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) sounds weary. But even if today's outlaws are more extremely vicious and absurdly cunning, he reasons that at some point "You have to say, 'Okay, I'll be part of this world.'" The consequences of this choice for Ed Tom make up one part of the Coen brothers' NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. As the lawman in a West Texas bordertown circa 1980, Ed Tom is pursuing two men. First up is local cowboy/Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), who's stumbled on close to $2 million in drug money and taken it from the aftermath of an exceedingly bloody shoot-out. Ed Tom hopes to bring Llewelyn in before he's found by the second man, notorious killer Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who intends to get the money back, both for his employers and for his own psychopathic satisfaction. The film follows each man's journey as they elude and hunt one another, crossing all manner of borders in the process -- between ethical and criminal, professional and personal, America and Mexico. Their intersections ultimately lead to bloodshed and revelation.
Is it any good?
The desolate landscape and moral layout evoke old Westerns, but the film also reconsiders that genre's conventions, suggesting comparisons between now and "the old times." So while Ed Tom follows clues and questions witnesses -- including Lleweleyn's wise, forgiving young wife Carla Jean (Kelly Macdonald) -- he's always a slight step behind his prey, recognizing Anton's extreme iniquity even before Llewelyn does. Though the war vet and the killer do match wits for some time in some deliciously tense, beautifully shot cat-and-mouse scenes, the sheriff knows that in a showdown, decency can't keep up with depravity.
Smart and compelling throughout, the film includes some stunning set-pieces, including a scene in which Llewelyn runs up a shallow river away from a ferocious hunting dog (the two shapes bobbing as they try to muster speed against the current is a sight you won't soon forget), and another in which he sits in a dark hotel room, shotgun on his lap, waiting for Anton's arrival. As a smooth-talking bounty hunter named Carson Wells, Woody Harrelson provides a few moments of welcome off-rhythm distance from Anton and Llewelyn's contest, but their intense focus on each other is overwhelming, even leading to a confrontation between Anton and Carla Jean, who refuses to participate in the coin-flip he offers. "The coin don't have no say," she says, eyeing him darkly. "It's just you."
Andin the end, it is just Anton, his bizarre, amoral meanness emblematic of the changes that Ed Tom perceives. Whether these changes are a function of his own aging, altered perspective, or a kind of national psychic shift, the film leaves for you to figure.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's use of violence. Does violence have the same impact in a movie like this as in an action movie like Live Free or Die Hard? Why or why not? Which type of movie violence do you find more affecting and/or upsetting? How do the Coens use filmmaking techniques to spark specific emotions in their audience? Do you think this film can be considered a Western? Why or why not?
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