Directors in the Oscar race

After sharpening their blades with a pair of featherweight comedies, the Coens return to the brand of coal-black comedy perfected in “Fargo” and the noir-shadowed West Texas world of “Blood Simple.” The material of “No Country for Old Men” supports a complex blend of regional satire, tense thriller set pieces and philosophical rumination as death (in the form of cold-blooded Anton Chigurh) stalks a briefcase stuffed with drug money.

GENESIS: “We had both read other Cormac McCarthy novels and liked him,” Joel Coen says. “The fact that it was seen as kind of a genre novel appealed to us, and that superficially it’s so much pulpier than what he usually writes. The novel works a certain way, where you think the story’s about one thing, and then he basically pulls the rug out and you’re forced to think, ‘Well, then what is it about?’ ”

VISION: “There’s the bad guy, the good guy, and this flawed character in between who takes the money. And the bad guy and the good guy never actually meet each other,” Joel says. “Also the very masculine nature, the three men sort of circling each other, was very compelling.”

CHALLENGES: What should Chigurh — and his weapon — look like? “The book does not physically describe the character at all,” says Joel. “When he leaves the room, one character says he detects like a foreign-smelling cologne, whatever that means.” Adds Ethan, “With the cattle gun, when the props person was bringing in the real thing and talking about how to modify it for the movie, there was a point at which I thought, I’m glad Cormac’s the one that thought this up. There’s something so horrifying about that gun.”

MAGIC: “We didn’t get rain. That time of year, we could have gotten majorly fucked by rain,” says Joel.

NEXT: The brothers just finished shooting “Burn After Reading” with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, of which Joel teases, “It’s about the CIA and physical fitness, and how those two worlds collide — and Internet dating.”

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