You’ve seen a lot of movies, seen a lot of fights between good guys and bad guys. Maybe, too, you’ve read a lot of books, read about monsters and criminals and psychopaths. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve been in the presence of villainy yourself. You think that makes you an expert. You think that means you know what it’s like to look in the face of pure evil.
Unless you’ve seen “No Country for Old Men,” it’s time you think again.
Anton Chigurh, played in a rightly hailed performance by Oscar nominee Javier Bardem, is more than a monster or a villain — he’s a singular force of nature: powerful, inexplicable and capable of anything. He’s “the devil incarnate,” “No Country” co-star Josh Brolin said in a press interview released by Miramax.
“You don’t understand [his violence], you can’t pigeonhole it. You can’t categorize it,” Brolin said. “He’s very malleable, but not malleable on your terms, malleable on his own terms.”
It’s an indiscriminate, unfathomable lack of conscience that makes him more than a man — a being beyond and outside human motivations or behaviors. Note, for example, his fascination with coin flips, particularly in the scene at the gas station. His threats are never spelled out, his motivations never known.
“That’s his power: You cannot really understand him completely,” Bardem said of his character. “The good thing about Anton Chigurh is that he can’t be described. He’s not even described in the book by Cormac McCarthy. He doesn’t need to be explained.”
And the gas-station attendant has no need for explanation: He knows he plays for his life, and that violence will come as swiftly and inevitably as death.
Without recourse or judgment, Chigurh just is.
“It’s a character that comes out of the land and, at the end, comes back to the land, which means everything,” Bardem asserted.
So much of that, of course, comes from Bardem’s portrayal, which has pegged him as the favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this weekend.
“He is supposed to be the one character that’s [unplaceable] ethnically and nationally. He’s the one character who’s not local, not a West Texas person, so Javier fit the bill in that regard,” co-director Ethan Coen said. “He’s sort of relentless, but there’s something a little bit mysterious about him. You don’t quite know where he’s come from. We needed to find an actor who could flesh it out in a substantial way without giving away too much. Hence, Javier Bardem.”
In this way, Bardem’s performance transcends most cinematic representations of evil, becoming perhaps the best onscreen antagonist in more than a decade. In fact, you would probably have to go back as far as “Jaws” to find a similarly remorseless, instinctual killing machine. Chigurh isn’t misguided, confused or motivated by venal sins like most villains. He’s the shark. He’s pure terror. He’s nothing less than manifest death. He’s “the Grim Reaper,” Brolin said.
“What Anton Chigurh does is a new kind of violence, and I guess one of the issues that the novel, and the script and the movie, is talking about is the way to understand this huge wave of violence that has taken the world,” Bardem said. “Chigurh more than represents, he symbolizes the violence. [He] shows that violence doesn’t really have an explanation sometimes, or any roots. It just happens, and it’s unstoppable.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “No Country for Old Men.”
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