If this isn't a masterpiece, tell me what is

PUBLISHED: 16:52 21 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:41 07 September 2010

Sparks fly in this grim monster of a film

Sparks fly in this grim monster of a film

Michael Joyce gives a rare five-star rating to Coen brothers No Country for Old Men (15) Directors Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson, 122 mins Five star rating IN recent years there has been some concern that the Coen Brothers might be los

No Country for

Old Men (15)

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly MacDonald, Woody Harrelson, 122 mins

Five star rating

IN recent years there has been some concern that the Coen Brothers might be losing their touch. After this faultless Cormac McCarthy adaptation it's every other American movie maker who seems to be off the pace.

You could throw a heap of superlatives at it and they'd all stick. To paraphrase a line from the film, if this isn't a masterpiece it'll do till one turns up, though I can see people having problems with its ferocious, bleak vision.

It is quite the best literary adaptation since Cronenberg took on JG Ballard's Crash, imbuing enormous depth to the bare bones of a crime caper set on the Tex-Mex border. Josh Brolin's taciturn ordinary bloke Moss swipes a large amount of money after stumbling upon the corpse-strewn remnants of a drug deal gone bad. This, of course, turns out to be a very bad move.

Brolin's deadpan turn would be the standout in any other film but it is his pursuer, Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh, who people will focus on.

If the Rolling Stones had been committed to their Devil worshipping back in the 60s and Alistair Crowley had taken possession of Brian Jones, the result might have been something similar. Pale faced, red eyed, fop topped and dressed in black he should look ludicrously out of place among the 10-gallon hats but somehow it fits. It's the most striking villain performance since Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.

The Coen Brothers' formidable reputation is largely based on smart, ironic, often dark but primarily friendly comedies. Once every decade though a cold dark fury grips them and they unleash a film as stark and unrelenting as a tombstone. It started with debut Blood Simple and since then it has emerged only after they've suffered a career reversal. So the big budget flop The Hudsucker Proxy produced Fargo and now after the disappointments of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers they unleash this grim monster.

It is gruelling not because the violence is particularly explicit but because, despite a certain droll detachment, you feel all the pain. I usually hate films where innocent bystanders get killed and this is a film where that happens all the time. Yet even people who we meet for seconds before they are disposed of are given a dignity; they are not just fodder.

The ending is a real audience splitter. It will infuriate many but I don't feel it lets you down - the movie gives audiences lots of clues that it isn't dealing in stock thriller moralities - but a film without catharsis is hard to take. You can't always get what you want, but you'll find this time you get what you need.

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