'No Country' offers stark reality of evil

Not everyone is enamored of Cormac McCarthy's fiction.

His writing can be obscure and he insists on the conceit of not using quotation marks, which takes some getting use to. But with few exceptions, his body of work demonstrates a consistent talent for fine writing and constructing narratives that can be gripping.

Of course, his view of the world can be dark, even grim, with a startling absence of redemption. People living hard scrabble lives, uncertain if they should ever think to ask for more. It can be a bleak world, often apocalyptic, where his language, always strangely compelling, carries a sinister and nihilistic weight.

The novel "No Country for Old Men" is no exception. Like most of McCarthy's books, it is pulpy &

hard people, willing to do hard things to one another, all for a payoff. Though it is set in the early 1980s, it seems a western, or neo-western, not unlike McCarthy's Border Trilogy, beginning with "All the Pretty Horses."

The film "No Country for Old Men," which follows the book closely, set along the Mexico border, a landscape so bleached of life and color as to be all but monochromatic. Not unlike its people.

The movie opens with Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) &

a local welder, newly married &

hunting antelope on a mesa. Trailing a herd, he comes across a harrowing scene of carnage: apparently a drug deal gone wrong. Bodies are scattered near several bullet-riddled trucks, with a trail of blood leading off across the desert. Everyone is dead, except one mortally wounded man sitting behind the wheel of his pickup.

Moss lifts a tarp covering the bed of one of the trucks and discovers a cache of cocaine, large bricks stacked deep and high. Assuming that there has to be money as part of the buy, he heads off in the search of the missing man. He finds him under a small tree, dead, a satchel of money, millions, nearby.

Then Moss makes a life altering decision. He takes the money, convinced he can escape undetected. He leaves, satchel in hand, and drives home. He then makes another decision that will again alter his life, believing he can prevail. What he doesn't understand is the full measure of the danger that about to come his way.

Moss does manage to stay a mere three steps ahead of some very bad people &

one in particular, named Anton Chigurh (Javier Barden), a stone cold sociopath who leaves in his wake countless bodies, all killed using a brutal shotgun with a silencer or a pneumatic gun, favored by those who put cattle down.

The third corner of the triangle is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a veteran law man who seen the full panoply of evil in the world. Or so he believes. But he is grudgingly coming to realize that there is a new type of metastasizing evil, driven by drugs and money, and a murderous greed that seeps back and forth across the border and levels all who come into contact with it. With a sad shake of his head, he remembers a time when many sheriffs didn't carry weapons.

And so Bell, who gives moral weight to this film, offers a fine character study of an old man trying to understand what has happened to a world that he no longer recognizes. It is Bell who concludes that this is no longer a country for old men. Things have changed and he isn't interested in changing with them.

To say more about the film would rob the moviegoer of the opportunity to see this riveting and a raw drama unfold. Of course, like McCarthy's stark fiction, this film isn't for everyone. But it is a fine adaptation by the Coen brothers, who also shot "Fargo" and "O Brother Where Art Thou?"

A comment about Tommy Lee Jones: Over the years, Jones' face has taken on what might be thought of as character. His eyes look deeply tired, fissures mark his cheeks, bags hammock his eyes, all conveying a life's experience that has made him world weary. As Ed Tom Bell, he views the passing human drama with a mixture of wonder and humor. Jones played a similar role as a Border Patrol agent in "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," and as a retired M.P. in "The Valley of Elah." He has evolved into a consummate actor, engaging and interesting.

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