We can’t honestly say that Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men has proven particularly divisive in critical circles. But that’s not the case at Reverse Shot.
“It’s good to have the Coen Brothers back. So good, in fact, that one can now consider the descending quality of their recent output (with the notable exception of 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There) an aberration, a temporary artistic malaise—which started with O Brother, Where Art Thou? and culminated in the low point of their career, The Ladykillers—but one that has now come to a thankful halt. Sometimes you’ve got to hit bottom before climbing back on top, as they say, and the transition from that miserable 2004 disaster to No Country for Old Men is such an about-face in the brothers’ filmmaking that the most obvious of phrases can be unashamedly employed to describe their latest venture: an astonishing return to form. . . . The clearest reason for the rebound is the new film’s source material and, through it, the reestablishment of gravitas in the Coen universe.”
“A man’s hair can speak volumes, and in No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem’s is turned up to 11. It’s crucial to realize that such things as the ridiculous pageboy cut the Coen brothers have bestowed upon Bardem’s preternatural killer Anton Chigurh are not simply stray, eccentric details, but the shaping force of their films. They’re the quotation marks that let us know there’s no need to believe in any kind of reality therein, even as the all-too-real bursts of violence and cruelty expertly jolt our nerve endings. It’s hardly necessary at this late date to reiterate the Coens’ essential shallowness and artistic immaturity, though as with Tarantino, there are likely a few brave souls attempting to build a case for them as emotionally generous humanists. Best of luck to the faithful few—in the meantime, we might occupy ourselves in investigating what the Coens are actually doing. And this time out, what they’re doing is so impressive within its limits that the only criticism one can level is that the Coens are clearly aiming for something far beyond those limits, and have not the skill or character to reach it.”
UPDATE: Plus, Michael Koresky’s review at indieWIRE.