by Max Myers
One of the greatest neo-noir Westerns ever shot, the Coen brothers 2007 film adaptation of Cormac McCathy’s 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men, won four Academy Awards. Pulitzer Prize Winner McCarthy’s acclaimed neo-noir crime novel tells you everything about the film in the title. This is hard to do. Both the book and the film are impossible to forget.
“A good title is the title of a successful book.”
The story is covered in hard bark and as bleak as life can be, so if you’re looking for one that’s filled with PC infected, New Age ‘the glass is half full’ philosophy, this ain’t the novel or film for you. But, if you’re looking for a book full of blistering prose, cracking dialogue, taught suspense, then it just might be.
McCarthy’s novel can be hard to swallow, yet truthful in its societal observation; namely, that society is in decline, there can be consequences for bad behavior, the good guys don’t always win and yes, all roads lead to the graveyard. Just some are shorter than others.
“Nothin’ wounded goes uphill, he said. It just don’t happen.”
These themes are not new to crime fiction, but McCarthy’s presentation is unique. In most classic noir fiction — say Chandler, Hammett, et cetera, the authors offer a style and prose that is oft-copied, rarely equaled. Although most of them haven’t done real crime or time in prison, the reader is given a captivating, and often-cryptic observation of a particular era.
If you’ve never read Eddie Bunker (RIP), who had done the crime and the time, you know he offered an unapologetic view from the other side. Both have their own truth and both have merit. One takes you along on a wave of edgy story and sarcastic dialogue, the other takes you along on a wave of brutal realism, underscored with gritty dialogue.
I doubt that Cormac McCarthy’s ever done crime, but he’s certainly done some hard traveling on the streets and backroads of America. He is an accomplished master of story and dialogue.
In the filmed adaptation, the protagonist, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, laconic and dry as the Tex-Mex desert the story is set in, pursues the antagonist, Anton Chigurh, with as much fear as doggedness. He and his Deputy (Garret Dillahunt,) arrive at the double-wide home of Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin.) Moss is the sap that found 2 million dollars after stumbling upon numerous bodies in a drug deal gone bad. He believes it’s his lucky day. He’s wrong. It’s not. Soon enough, he realizes just how dangerous his situation is, underscored by this dialogue exchange between the cops:
Deputy Wendell: “You think this boy, Moss, has got any notion of the sorts of sons-of-bitches that’re huntin’ him?”
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell: “I don’t know, he ought to. He’s seen the same things I’ve seen, and it’s certainly made an impression on me.”
The son-of-a-bitch is Anton Chigurh, portrayed by Javier Bardem, one of the greatest villains to ever slide off a crime fiction novel and into your very being. He hunts Moss with equal parts glee and determination. And that’s the beauty of the story. It’s so believable, so gripping, that one has to take moments to force air back into long vacant lungs.
Carson Wells (portrayed by Woody Harrelson), another hunter/killer, is hired by the corporation that owns the 2 mill. They not only want it back, but retribution against Chigurh whom they had hired to track Llewellyn Moss in the first place. Only Chigurh wants it for himself, and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal.
Eventually, Wells and Chigurh meet in a hotel and the scene is played out with resolute brutality.
Anton Chigurh: “And you know what’s going to happen now. You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it.”
[Anton chuckles] “Alright. Let me ask you something. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”
“Do you have any idea how crazy you are?”
“You mean the nature of this conversation?”
“I mean the nature of you.”
One of the most memorable scenes occurs between the Sheriff, who has decided to retire and Ellis, portrayed by the incredible veteran actor, Barry Corbin. Once a lawman, now confined to a wheelchair, the memorable exchange captures the Sherriff’s sense of hopeless desperation, arguably the film’s message and Ellis, the voice of reality.
Ellis: “What you’ve got ain’t nothin’ new. This country’s hard on people. Ya can’t stop what’s comin’. They ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.
Although there is much brutality, there are moments of sheer terror, but not in the way one has come to expect from a thriller or horror. No. What I’m referring to is the gas station coin-toss scene, beautifully brought to chilling life by Javier Bardem and the little known, but equally brilliant character actor, Gene Jones.
However, the scene is a trap for you, the viewer. One expects after the dialogue exchange that contains the film’s most memorable line, spoken by Bardem: “What business is it of yours where I’m from, friendo?” that he’s going to kill the gas station owner. Yet when he does in fact win the toss, Chigurh gives him the coin, smiles and lets him live. Bait and switch. Brilliant.
Llewellyn’s wife, Carla Jean Moss, portrayed by the amazing Kelly Macdonald, is initially unaware that he found and kept the money. Unfortunately, in one of the last, and, for me, saddest scene of the film, she finds herself face-to-face with Chigurh.
Carla Jean Moss: “You don’t have to do this.”
[Chigurh smiles,] “People always say the same thing.”
“They say, ‘You don’t have to do this.’”
“Okay.” [Chigurh pulls a coin out of his pocket, flips it and locks eyes with her.] “This is the best I can do. Call it.”
[She stares at him, incredulous,] “I knowed you was crazy when I saw you sitting there. I knowed exactly what was in store for me.”
“No. I ain’t gonna call it.”
“The coin don’t have no say. It’s just you.”
“Well, I got here the same way the coin did.”
Inevitably, he kills her. But her death is more than just another awful murder. It’s the final coffin nail in a crime spree that has held both viewer and reader, in a trance inducing, death grip.
The finality of all of the pain, misery, street justice and death of it all is this:
Llewellyn Moss is killed by Anton Chigurh.
Carla Jean Moss is killed by Anton Chigurh.
The corporate man who hires Wells to kill Chigurh, is killed by the latter.
The two men that work for the corporate man that hired Chigurh, are killed by him.
The desk clerk in the first hotel that Llwellyn Moss stays at, is killed by Chigurh.
The three Mexican drug dealers are killed by Chigurh in the motel.
Chigurh kills the Deputy at the beginning of the film.
Chigurh kills the motorist exchange the Deputies cruiser for his.
Chigurh kills the man with the flatbed loaded with chickens.
The pool-side woman is killed by Chigurh.
Carla Jean’s mom, portrayed by the brilliant Beth Grant, dies of cancer.
Chigurh arguably kills Sheriff Ed Tom Bell’s desire to continue as a peace officer.
And, surprisingly, we’re not sure if Chigurh kills the nervous accountant when he does kill the corporate man.
I’ll leave the final opinion on life, death and the necessity of it all, to Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in his exchange with his wife, portrayed by the wonderful Tess Harper.
“I had two dreams about him after he died. I don’t remember the first one all that well but it was about meetin’ him in town somewheres and he give me some money and I think I lost it.”
“But the second one it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback goin’ through the mountains of a night. Goin’ through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow on the ground and he rode past me and kept on goin’. Never said nothin’. He just rode on past and he had this blanket wrapped around him and he had his head down and when he rode past I seen he was carryin’ fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it. ‘bout the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin’ on ahead and that he was fixin’ to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there. And then I woke up.”
* * * * *
New All Things Crime Blog contributor Max Myer’s life has been as colorful as his writing. At age 12, he landed on the mean streets of East London, where he joined a rock-n-roll-band, learned to play drums and a respectable blues harp, and did some serious amateur boxing. He left home and school when he was 15, eventually moving into tour management and sound mixing, working and playing for many famous musicians from such notable European acts as Mungo Jerry, Manfred Mann, Wings, Berlin Rock Ensemble and Moonraker. Inevitably, he was drawn to the American shores…
In the early 90s, Max relocated to New York and started a music production company, but soon the collapse of Wall Street left him homeless and penniless. He drew upon his early days as an amateur boxer and informed by his experiences in the violent neighborhoods of East London, took on a succession of jobs as doorman and bouncer at some of New York’s edgier nightclubs. It was in this era that he continued his street education, joining a biker gang and experiencing firsthand the lawlessness and corruption of society’s underbelly.
By 1994, he recognized there was no future for him on the streets, so he took a job waiting tables and began his writing career. His first big break came in 1997 when he landed a development deal with Martin Scorsese’s Cappa Productions, under the guidance of Barbara De Fina. Succumbing to the lure of Hollywood, Max moved west where he continues to write, direct and teach.
He wrote the romantic comedy, Irish Jam, for Eddie Griffin and Anna Friel. Wrote and directed, Don’t Let Go, for which he won Outstanding Directorial Achievement at the Stony Brook Long Island Film Festival, Best Picture at the Westchester Film Festival and a Los Angeles Prism Award. He has written for over 22 producers, companies and celebrities, some of whom appear as themselves in his debut novel, Boysie Blake – Problem Solver.
In 2011, Max was a guest on the Indie Directors Panel at the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory Summer Intensive Program. He also lectured on filmmaking for actors, Create Your Own Content and was honored with, An Evening With Max Myers.
2013, Max is once again a guest on the Indie Directors Panel at the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory Summer Intensive. He is also giving an acting lecture, “From Acting To Being.”
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