A neo-western thriller. When rugged Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss finds the horrific aftermath of a botched drug deal and takes a suitcase filled with money, he sets in motion a spiral of violence beyond his control or comprehension. An old and unhappy sheriff, Ed Tom Bell, is determined to prove that there's still a place for justice in an otherwise unfair and cruel world as he sets out to find Moss and protect him from the owners of the money.There's just one small hitch: an assassin has been sent after the stolen money, and he is a complete sociopath. Anton Chigurh is a man willing to do absolutely anything — to "follow a supreme act of will", as he puts it — in order to get what he is after...and it's no longer just the money he's after.The novel was written by Cormac McCarthy, a grizzled old man who refuses to discuss his books beyond their often disturbing content. The movie was written and directed by The Coen Brothers — two oddballs with a great sense of black humor and a love for twisted storylines — but this breathtaking and chillingly eerie film is considerably bleaker than anything else they've done.The film was honored with numerous awards: it received three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for Best Picture (Scott Rudin, Ethan and Joel Coen), Best Director (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Adapted Screenplay (by Joel and Ethan Coen), and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem).
Actor Allusion: A very dark example. When ruminating on the state of the world, Sheriff Bell references the recent murder of a federal judge. The murder occured in real life and was committed by hitman Charles Harrelson, father of Woody Harrelson who plays Wells.
Alone with the Psycho: Most characters in the story find themselves alone and helpless with Anton Chigurh. No one ever shows up to rescue them.
Ax-Crazy: Anton Chigurh is a subversion. Even if they don't make sense to a normal person, Chigurh has his reasons, and he's more coldly logical than crazy. He does, however, have one of the primary traits of a true Ax-Crazy, which is the immense amount of danger involved in even speaking to him.
Bavarian Fire Drill: In a particularly disturbing example, Chigurh steals a random passerby's pickup truck by pulling him over in a police car, and manages to get him to stand back completely complacent as he blows his brains out with a cattle bolt
Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Contrary to what the trailers and DVD chapter listing will tell you, Chigurh never says "Call it, friendo"; they're in two different lines ("What business is it of yours where I'm from...friendo?"/"Call it.")
Bilingual Bonus: When Moss gets woken up by the Mariachis the song they're playing translates to: "You wanted to fly with no wings/ You wanted to touch heaven/ You wanted many riches/ You wanted to play with fire/ And now that -"
Black and Gray Morality: Chigurh versus Moss. Chigurh is a relentless, cold-blooded killer. Moss is impulsive and prideful, getting innocent people such as his wife in danger or killed as well as leading to his own death.
Deconstruction: A specialty both of Cormac McCarthy and The Coen Brothers. Moss in particular is a deconstruction of the action hero, especially the older tougher variety. He thinks of himself as tough, resourceful, and morally righteous. To the audience, he comes across as greedy, vain and stupid, never really thinking of the consequences of his actions or of the potential cost to those around him. Like Sheriff Bell, Moss is an archetype of a forgotten era, from a time when men never gave in to bad guys and the lines of black and white were clear. He doesn't seem to realize that the world is turning into a much darker place where men like him have no place. Unlike Bell, he never realizes and pays the ultimate price for his arrogance.
Decoy Protagonist: Llewelyn Moss. Sheriff Bell is the real protagonist, and delivers both the opening and closing monologues. The story is basically about an old man not adapting to the reality of the brutal environment he works in.
Despair Event Horizon: Bell just about crosses it after the deaths of Llewelyn and Carla Jean. A conversation with his Uncle Ellis reminds him that criminality and senseless violence have always been part of life in the region. Bell's narration ends on an ambiguous note as he relates two dreams he had. (They seem to allude to Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece The Road.)
Disposable Pilot: Moss hitches a ride with a bystander, who is killed at the wheel as Moss watches. Later, he hitches another ride with an entirely different man, who is also killed for his trouble, but that happens long after he was separated from Moss.
Downer Ending: Basically, The Bad Guy Wins. Not only is the Decoy Protagonist murdered (off-screen), but then the villain murders the hero's teenage wife (again, off-screen) and escapes justice, leaving an old man to contemplate his inability to act in the face of so much seemingly pointless violence of the world.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: The entire story seems to be building towards a climactic duel between Moss and Chigurh, but in the end Moss is killed off-screen by a gang of Mexican drugrunners who aren't even major characters. A deliberate subversion of Death Is Dramatic (see above).
Easter Egg: The credits include an attribution for "The One Right Tool", a reference to a line of dialogue in the film. (Right above it is a credit for "Serious Matters".)
The Eighties: Set in 1980; since it's the beginning of the decade, and the setting is rural Texas, there isn't much of stereotypical '80s fashion. Chigurh's rather out-of-place garb (alligator skin boots, denim jacket...) could be leftover fashion from the '70s, not to mention his haircut. There's no '80s pop soundtrack either; it's mostly eerie sound effects or silence.
The Guards Must Be Crazy: Moss simply walks over the US-Mexican border into Mexico, past the only Mexican night shift customs officer, who is asleep. Truth in Television however justifies this - you can indeed cross the border to Mexico without as much as a passport control, but getting back to the US is a totally different affair altogether.
Happily Married: Ed Tom Bell and Loretta; Llewelyn and Carla Jean (though they snark at each other occasionally).
Laser-Guided Karma: Subverted. Chigurh gets T-boned by a speeding car a few minutes after killing Carla Jean. However, it turns out he only broke his arm and some of his ribs, and he's just too resilient be defeated by it.
MacGuffin: Moss has a suitcase containing $2 million. Chigurh is hunting Moss to get the money. Bell is hunting Chigurh and simultaneously hunting Moss in hopes of getting him to safety. Chigurh never catches up with Moss, and Bell never catches up with either Moss or Chigurh. Bell and Chigurh almost cross paths, but they never actually meet one another.
Mean Character, Nice Actor: Javier Bardem, whose icy, menacing and intense performance as Anton Chigurh won him a well-deserved Oscar and created one of the most memorable movie villains in recent history, is in reality a very meek and soft-spoken man; most of his other roles have been in romantic comedies. He confessed to being alarmed by the graphic violence in the film and the pure evil of his character, and says he only agreed to take the part because he believed the Coens were using violence to make a meaningful statement.
Missed Him by That Much: Anton tracks Llewellyn via transponder to a motel room. While Anton is violently eliminating the Mexicans occupying the room, Llewellyn is dragging the 50 lb. satchel through a ventilation duct in the opposite room. The gunfire and screaming mask the scraping sounds created by the bag. By the time Anton checks the vent, Llewellyn has left the motel and hitched a ride out of town.
Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer makes the film look like a tough action film and alludes to a final confrontation between Wells and Chigurh. Those who have seen the film know that the trailer couldn't be less like it.
No Ending: Played with. As noted above, with the exceptions of Chigurh and Sheriff Bell, every major character dies. A quick shot reveals that Chigurh had found the money in the ventilation system again, and left with the money, but it goes by fast and is irrelevant to the story by this point.
The man with the chicken crates who stops to give Chigurh a jump.
Moss' act of mercy to bring the dying Mexican mobster water sets Chigurh on his trail, though it also gives him warning that someone is looking for the cash, which sets Moss running and helps him figure out that there's a tracking beacon in the cash before Chigurh can ambush him.
Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: Played with. Sheriff Bell often muses about how someone like Chigurh wouldn't have gotten away with anything in the "old days", but this claim is undermined at the end when his uncle Ellis tells him a tale of how his grandfather was killed in cold blood on his own porch in 1909 by a trio of Native Americans, and then says to him flat out that claiming the "old days" were better or more moral is nothing but vanity.
Pet the Dog: Llewelyn goes back to the scene of the gunfight with a full carton of water, out of sympathy for the driver he refused to help earlier ("I ain't got no damn agua") who was probably dead anyway.
Of course there is the fact he didn't call an ambulance for him and waited several hourse before deciding to go back, so more of a Kick the Dog moment really...
Play-Along Prisoner: In his first scene, Anton Chigurh allows a deputy to arrest him, slips his cuffs from back to front, kills the deputy, and steals a police car. All just to prove a point about supreme will.
Pragmatic Adaptation: The style in which the novel is written would seem to be difficult to adapt to film, but the Coens manage to do it justice by translating McCarthy's stark language into stark imagery and audio design. This resulted in it being one of the few films that is widely regarded to be superior to the book.
While he is clearly overshadowed in this aspect by Chigurh, Carson Wells is by his own right a quite psychopathic killer.
Reality Subtext: The book was written partly as the author's reaction to the sensation of escalating violence brought in by drug trafficking, starting in the early eighties and continuing to this day. To evoke this, the book and movie are Period Pieces. The author's response to this feeling can possibly be seen in the Uncle's speech near the end, who outright states that things are not worse or better than the past, they just always feel that way to those living at that moment.
The Red Stapler: The demand for silenced, pistol-grip shotguns increased as a result of Chigurh's primary weapon.
Self Stitching: Anton blows up a car so he can steal the medical supplies to treat his injuries; he's later shown stitching himself up, as if we need proof that he's any more badass than he already is.
Scarily Competent Tracker: Carson Wells. Subverted by Anton Chigurh, however. Llewelyn eventually realizes that there's no way Chigurh could be tracking him so effectively without some sort of advantage. Sure enough, there's a tracking device in the money bag.
Scenery Gorn: From the shots of the barren, desolate Texas landscape to the long pans over dead bodies in the early stages of decay, this movie has it in spades.
The Sociopath: Anton Chigurh is such a potent one that he's basically a walking force of unstoppable evil.
Take a Third Option: Subverted in the film. Carla refuses to call the coin Chigurh flips for her (she does in the novel, but is wrong). He kills her anyway.
Throw It In: During early readings, Spanish actor Javier Bardem attempted unsuccessfully to downplay his accent; the Coens liked the resultant mangled, unidentifiable dialect so much that they encouraged him to speak like that for the entire film, hence Chigurh's strange and unsettling accent.
Villainous Breakdown: Anton Chigurh arguably suffers a flicker of one when Carla Jean refuses to call his coin toss, thus making her the first person in the film to take a stand in direct and face-to-face defiance of his "principles." Even moreso in the book. He apologizes (plainly, but still does) as she starts to sob, and starts to really having to defend his principles to her in order to go through with killing her.
Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The duel between Chigurh and Moss is very different in the book and movie. In the movie, When Chigurgh cracks the doorknob, it strikes Moss, who shoots back and flees. In the book, Moss turns on his bathroom light and hides in the dark, and when Chigurh inspects the bathroom, Moss holds him at gunpoint and escorts him down the hall with Chigurh facing away. He had the opportunity to kill him there, but is apparently reluctant to commit murder.
World Half Empty: The movie and the book take an extremely cynical view on human nature. The stark reality of it all drives Bell to retire.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Llewelyn Moss. He refuses to accept that the world isn't as black and white as he believes it is and acts like he's a stereotypical action hero. This flaw ends up getting him killed.
You Keep Telling Yourself That: It practically defines the character of Anton Chigurh. The film version stresses this even further - in the book, he manages to intimidate Carla Jean into calling the coin toss. In the film, we never see her break. She refuses to give him that 'out', and it's the closest he gets to a defeat.