There is always a danger in over-hyping a film. If every critical voice — from the nationals to, well, newish kids on the block like Screenjabber — declares a film the greatest thing since the last greatest thing, there is a risk that the general population will be slightly disappointed when they see it. Then you have a film like No Country For Old Men, which is so great and so ahead of everything else for years that surely nobody can question the adulation?
Essentially, No Country For Old Men is the modern classic that the Coen Brothers have always threatened to make. It's easily their best film. It's the best modern western in living memory. It's the best Cormac McCarthy adaptation to date. It's Tommy Lee Jones's best performance ever. It is, in short, an embarrassment of riches. If there is a "flaw" it's that its masculine edge and deeply moving analysis of masculine flaws might alienate certain elements of the female audience, but what the hell: they're the same mouth-breathing, Big Brother-watching arseholes who've made PS I Love You a hit, so fuck 'em.
For a film that straddles a number of genres and plot elements, it's a remarkably cohesive experience. Things start with a shot of desolate Texan country and Sheriff Bell (Jones) giving a wistful voiceover on the shifting principles of modern life and law enforcement. It then moves to the arrest of Anton Chigurh (Bardem), who quickly reveals himself to be the ultimate film psychopath, then switches again to Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) who, while out hunting, stumbles across the aftermath of a failed drug deal and helps himself to a satchel containing $2 million. Unsurprisingly, the men behind the deal are rather attached to that satchel and thus the separate strands slowly come together, as Chigurh goes after Moss and Bell finds himself first investigating, and later trying to protect, Moss from the inevitabile consequences of his action.
At this point, the film is enormously entertaining, with elements of black humour, stunning action and Bardem redefining "magnetic". However, almost impercebtibly, the focus of the film shifts, becoming an elegant and moving portrait of changing values, frustrated lives, the nature of evil and the need to carry on despite the encroaching "darkness". It's a breathtaking achievement, epic in scale but intimate in detail, and a film that doesn't so much linger long in the mind as haunt you for days and weeks afterwards. The best film of 2008? No Country For Old Men is probably the best film of the 21st Century.