The Contenders

Release date: Nov. 9 Distributor: Miramax Films

The Coen brothers’ penchant for picaresque heroes and novelist Cormac McCarthy’s brutal depictions of decaying values in the New West have found a harmonic convergence in “No Country for Old Men.” Characteristically sharing writing and directing credits, Joel and Ethan Coen have lifted whole swatches of dialogue from McCarthy’s unusually spare novel, which is so cinematic in the telling that it was practically written like a screenplay. The film was rapturously praised at Cannes by Variety’s Todd McCarthy and is likely to be placed alongside the Coens’ best-received works.

The movie benefits from a kind of perfect storm of talent, some of whom are enjoying banner years, including Tommy Lee Jones (also seen in “In the Valley of Elah”), Javier Bardem (“Love in the Time of Cholera”), red-hot character actor Josh Brolin (“Elah,” “American Gangster,” “Grindhouse”) and masterful d.p. Roger Deakins, with whom the Coens have collaborated on eight previous films. Although Deakins’ work elevates two other recent films, “Elah” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” his cryptically gorgeous landscapes and moody shifts in tone find their match in the Coens’ and McCarthy’s godless universe, and the film’s colorful Texas vernacular — both in Jones’ world-weary voiceover and in spoken dialogue — make this a feast for the eyes and ears.

While the Coens have been accused of an overarching style, their approach here is as unadorned as the film’s parched West Texas landscape, even if the production values are topnotch across the board. Deakins, with five nominations under his belt (three for Coen movies), might be the best d.p. who’s never won an Oscar. Jones, who won a supporting statuette for “The Fugitive,” could very well stand as a frontrunner in the same category, as will Brolin and previous lead nominee Bardem, whose assassin is a wildly inventive cross between Frankenstein and the Grim Reaper.

See photos, trailer and more on ‘No Country For Old Men’

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