15 Years on, No Country for Old Men’s Chase Scene Is Still a Masterclass in Suspense

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“What are you going to do?”

“I’m getting ready to do the damn thing but I’m leaving.” If I don’t come back, tell Mom that I love her.”

“Your mother is dead Llewelyn.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him myself then.”

So begins one of the most difficult events in the history of cinema. If you don’t understand the exchange is from a Cormac McCarthy novel No Country for Old Menyou can recognize it from the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning adaptation, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this month.

Taken directly from McCarthy’s book, Coen’s taut and muscular film explores the question of whether any man can transcend his own judgment. As Anton Chigurh, a mysterious, near-mythical man determined to decide your fate with the toss of a coin and a bolt, Javier Bardem exemplifies this central thesis.

But, as memorable as Bardem’s, the best film doesn’t start with a coin toss, it starts at night, as hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) leaves his wife to fetch water from a dying Mexican drug lord. Moss experiences the consequences of a bad trip while hunting that afternoon. A man dies, cries for water. After finding the traffickers’ money and hiding it under his trailer, Moss is tormented by his conscience and takes the injured man’s water to drink.

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Things go downhill from there. For the next three minutes and fifty-three seconds we are treated to a chase scene to rival anything in cinema, in a film with two hours of back-to-back chases.

Silhouetted against the dark Texan hills and shades of blue, Moss makes his way to the truck. He pauses. The salesman he was talking to earlier is lying on the floor. The truck door is open and there is a pool of fresh blood on the floor. Speaking of tiredness, we see Moss on purpose. He spins around, only to see his truck parked outside on the back row. Something is wrong. But it’s too late to turn around, Moss is already caught in a trap.

While the audience begs Moss to turn around, our man puts down a jug of water, pulls out his .45 revolver, and approaches the truck. The close-up of the exploding bandito’s head warns us of the violence to come. And here it is: a new truck, guys, the words on the side of Moss’ truck. Moss hides. You are breathing. He prays. A truck rushes toward him, its headlights painting him in the darkness as if something were coming from him Close the connection of type Three.

Bullets ring out. Moss ducks, run away. He crawls under the truck, not yards away, but nowhere to hide. Then he gets up and runs into the darkness, towards the freezing storm in the distance, the dark shape of his body only caught by the headlights of the truck chasing him. Literally and figuratively, Moss has entered the darkness and is headed for a deadly storm.

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A palette of beautiful deep blues make up the sky, with blood red rising from the east. The silver braids of the river appear. Moss is shot in the shoulder and falls. While we shout get up, go! He takes off his boots and jacket and enters the water. The barking of the dog can be heard as the pursuers look on. Moss sinks into the water. The pitbull – all muscle and teeth – frees itself from behind and gives chase.

Moss swims in the pre-dawn darkness, the river threatens to wash him away. The dog pulls behind him, gaining ground on the injured man. At the last moment Moss pulls himself out of the river. He pulls out his wet gun from the river, takes a bullet out of the chamber, blows on it to disperse the water… all the while the dog wanders onto the shore and rushes towards him. At the last second, Moss reloads, stops and fires, as the dog is in the air. The speed of the dog knocked them both down. Only Moss wakes up.

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From here he will be followed until his death.

It is, quite simply, a masterclass in suspense. From gangsters to bullets to river waterfalls to a ferocious dog and an unreliable weapon, Moss avoids death in many places in less than a typical pop song. Apart from the bandits, nothing is said; it’s all moans and groans and breaths – all this shows that Brolin has long been one of our most famous actors.

The colors add to the issues, too. This is not a high-speed car chasing down a sunny European street. He’s not a guy who does parkour as he avoids bad guys in an American city. Or a guy running in a helicopter over a beautiful moor. It’s dark, wet, cold. Despite the vastness of the Texan landscape it is an incredibly claustrophobic place. The darkness is oppressive. For most of the sequence it’s hard to even see what’s going on.

Not a single note of music or score is played – here or anywhere else in the film. Moss is completely, completely alone. That he survived this long is a miracle, and one that few films since then have attempted to replicate.


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