When No Country for Old Men (2007) was released 10 years ago, the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel was widely regarded as a new peak for the acclaimed duo. The movie cleaned up at the 80th Academy Awards, winning best film, screenplay, director and supporting actor gongs. In a year in which such masterful films as There Will Be Blood, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Eastern Promises were in contention, its success spoke volumes.
A neo-noir, modern-western thriller, No Country for Old Men sees Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a welder and Vietnam veteran, stumble upon a drug deal gone wrong – very wrong – in the west Texas desert. After finding and stealing a suitcase containing $2m, Moss finds himself being hunted down by a relentless, bowl-haired killing machine called Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem).
Not merely content to recover the money and call it quits, Chigurh takes perverse pleasure in terrifying or murdering almost everyone he encounters using a captive bolt pistol. As the lives of Moss and Chigurh become inextricably linked, the Coens enrich this suspense-filled game of cat and mouse with a thoughtful exploration of the themes of fate and destiny.
Alongside Brolin and Bardem, there are memorable turns from Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald and, particularly, Tommy Lee Jones. The latter’s performance as wily old local sheriff Ed Tom Bell is delivered with a laconic, world-weariness that’s captivating. Meanwhile, the drama is punctuated by ace cinematographer Roger Deakins’ lingering wide-angle images of the sparse desert, serving as an almighty and epic backdrop to the violent chaos that ensues.
A decade on, the majesty of No Country for Old Men is undimmed. Here are five films you might enjoy if you love the Coens’ modern classic.
The Searchers (1956)
Director John Ford
Influencing a range of master filmmakers, from David Lean to Martin Scorsese, John Ford’s landmark western, a tale of revenge, love and obsession, is regarded as one of the greatest American films ever made. John Wayne plays weary civil war hero Ethan Edwards, who determinedly hunts for his niece through the desert southwest after she is abducted by Comanche. The portrayal of an epic search through the American landscape has been mirrored in great films from Taxi Driver (1976) to Paris, Texas (1984), and the pioneer stories of both Ford and his contemporary Anthony Mann were surely a key inspiration on the Coens’ neo-western.
Touch of Evil (1958)
Director Orson Welles
A tale of nefarious border-town crime and corruption that should appeal to fans of the Coens’ movie, Touch of Evil features Orson Welles as a crooked cop and Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh as the newlyweds who get caught up in his shady world. While regarded now as a masterpiece of film noir, Welles’s movie was a box-office failure and would turn out to be the last film he ever got to make in Hollywood. It remains legendary for its opening three-minute tracking shot, which ends with a bomb going off. Equally thrilling, though, is the scene in which Leigh’s character is menaced in her Mexican motel. It foreshadows the terrifying night-time sequence in No Country for Old Men in which Chigurh turns up at the hotel where Moss is hiding out.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Director Sam Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah’s tale of revenge, rape and death is a pulpy, grisly tale – hard to watch yet impossible to ignore. Via the gruesome quest of Warren Oates’ Bennie, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is like a nihilistic journey into the mind of its tortured, alcoholic director. As Bennie and girlfriend Elita go searching for the corpse of a certain Alfredo Garcia, they hope to claim the $1m reward from a Mexican baron who wants Garcia’s head for deflowering his daughter. This morbid bounty hunt encounters mayhem and murder at every turn.
The Terminator (1984)
Director James Cameron
Though the comparison may not be obvious, James Cameron’s punk sci-fi classic and the Coens’ thriller do share similarities. Anton Chigurh’s armed and relentless pursuit of Llewelyn Moss is very much from the playbook of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg killing machine, who – according to character Kyle Reese – “absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!” Sent from the future to kill Sarah Connor before she can conceive her son, the terminator is part man, part machine. Cameron’s film was made on a modest budget but proved a box-office smash, wowing audiences with its thrilling action set pieces.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Director Andrew Dominik
Recalling such ‘anti-westerns’ as Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), Chopper director Andrew Dominik’s film is a mournful and languid revisionist piece, adapted from Ron Hansen’s 1983 novel of the same name. Unfolding on the windswept, snowy plains of Missouri, it tells the tale of the death of legendary outlaw and gunslinger Jesse James (Brad Pitt) at the hands of fellow gang member Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). Linking the film with No Country for Old Men is director of photography Roger Deakins. Along with a lilting, sorrowful Nick Cave and Warren Ellis soundtrack, Deakins’ palette of browns and yellows lends the film a sombre, melancholic quality that’s both bleak and magnetic.