This article could go a bunch of different ways. I could go on how the Coens created a gorgeous crime epic or how Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh became a classic villain overnight. What ultimately drives this movie though is not Bardem or even Josh Brolin. This movie is subtly all about Tommy Lee Jones’s Sheriff character and you only realize it by the very end of the film. I remember watching this originally and found it so strange we end this on Jones considering what happens beforehand. A lot of scenes involving shootouts, chases, and Woody Harrelson in a cowboy hat somehow doesn’t translate to an ending where an old man contemplates a dream. But, again, it bares to repeat that this is HIS movie despite the focus never really being on him.
The sheriff in No Country for Old Men is your typical sheriff in a film: kind-hearted, wanting to do the right thing, but too many steps behind from the story. At first it becomes frustrating that we keep going back and forth with him because so much exciting things are happening in regards to the cat and mouse game going on. But that is where you completely miss the point of the film. Yes, there is some magical stuff involving Chigurh and a coin flip or Josh Brolin doing his damnest to escape certain death. What the Coens are doing though is showing us how realistically a cop can handle such a brutal crime spree. We have seen in the news lately how inadequate the police have been with violent crimes and this film is ahead of its time in being a response to all of it.
You start to slowly realize the ultimate theme of this film is hopelessness. This sheriff is out of his game and he knows it. He keeps going to colleagues for advice but they all say the same thing to him: Give up because you can’t stop fate. It becomes so depressing to see this man, who I am sure was a great man and cop at one point, sink into the depression that he is no longer deemed necessary in such a cold world. It is a complete one eighty from what we saw in an earlier Coen Bros film with Fargo. In that we see Frances McDormand’s character overcoming the odds of a cold world (literally and figuratively) and still finding a way to find good in people. That will never be the case though when it comes to this western.
It wouldn’t be a Cormac McCarthy story if it wasn’t filled with violent images and a ton of depressing anecdotes. But what I love about the final scene is that there is some sense of hope. The story Jones recounts is one part creepy because of the circumstances but the overall themes and message is clear. The Father is helping his son realize that just because things look terrible there will always be some ray of hope however fleeting it is. This scene, and everything else in the film, is portrayed beautifully by Jones. It is a shame he didn’t get as much recognition come award season because this is as much his film as it is Bardem’s.