Now that the desert desperation and motiveless malignity of No Country for Old Men has been showered with awards from the Director’s Guild and the Screen Actor’s Guild, it’s worth mulling over what the film, apart from its skillful acting and directorial panache, is actually about. [SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen the movie, key plot points are about to be revealed]
Consider the story: A hapless young man (Josh Brolin) scraping by with a wife and child, happens on some big money left high and dry after a drug deal gone bad. He takes the money and is pursued by a relentless antagonist (Javier Bardem) who gradually mows down everyone who gets in his way, including the hapless young man and finally his wife.
Oh, I forgot. There’s also a sheriff, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who makes some feeble efforts to catch the inexorable killer but finally decides to sit around with his deputy and sundry other people to philosophize about how times have changed and such implacable murderers weren’t around in the good old days.
If you think about the story in genre terms, it could be considered a nice comic turn around of a classic western plot. We all remember the stranger who comes into town at the beginning of the movie, cleans up the villains and general corruption, and leaves at the end. Only this time, the stranger is a cold-blooded killer who ventilates most of the rest of the characters--except the philosophical sheriff--and then goes on his way, hindered only by an interesting accident--about which more in a minute.