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Film / No Country for Old Men

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"What you got ain't nothin' new. This country's hard on people. You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waitin' on you. That's vanity."

No Country for Old Men is a 2007 neo-Western thriller film written and directed by The Coen Brothers, based on a 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy.

The place is West Texas; the year, 1980. When rugged Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) 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. A cynical old sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), 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.

But for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the men behind the deal have sent ruthless hitman Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) to retrieve the briefcase. Chigurh is a man willing to do absolutely anything in order to achieve his aims... and it's not just the money he's after.

The film was honored with numerous awards: three British Academy of Film awards, two Golden Globes, and Academy Awards for Best Picture (Scott Rudin and Ethan and Joel Coen), Best Director (the Coen brothers), Best Adapted Screenplay (the Coen brothers), and Best Supporting Actor (Bardem).

This film was one of two collaborations of Paramount Vantage and Miramax released in 2007 alongside There Will Be Blood, itself nominated for multiple awards. At the time, Miramax was owned by Disney. Miramax was subsequently sold to Filmyard Holdings in 2010, then to beIN Media Group in 2016. Four years later, Paramount acquired a minority stake in Miramax, and now holds the worldwide rights to all films it had co-produced with Miramax (except for Sliding Doors, which is now owned by Shout! Factory), along with the rest of the Miramax library.

Provides examples of:

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  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The book is set in the 1980s but was released in 2005, and the movie in 2007.
  • The '80s: Set in 1980; since it's the beginning of the decade, and the setting is rural Texas, there isn't much 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.
  • Actor Allusion: A very dark example. When ruminating on the state of the world in the book, Sheriff Bell references the recent murder of a federal judge. The murder occurred in real life and was committed by hitman Charles Harrelson, father of Woody Harrelson (yes, really), who plays Wells in the movie.
  • Adaptational Nationality: In the film, Chigurh is played by the Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who has a Spanish accent when speaking English. In the book, Chigurh's nationality is left intentionally vague, but characters are sure that he's not Mexican, and he is never said to have a foreign accent. Bardem intentionally tried to muddy his accent as much as possible to keep Chigurh's origins obscure for the movie.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie is very loyal to the book but excises some sections for brevity:
    • In the book, Moss spends a whole chapter traveling with and talking to a teenage runaway. She's also what gets him killed. She is removed from the book and replaced with some random women he briefly meets at his motel.
    • In the book, Chigurh is given more opportunities to wax philosophical about his outlook on the world. His conversations with Moss, Carla Jean, and Wells are all much longer.
    • The epilogue of Bell continuing the investigation after Moss dies is greatly decreased. In the film, Bell does not interview the two bicycle kids or visit Moss's father.
  • Agony of the Feet: A brief scene in the clothing store's bathroom, when Llewelyn pulls his socks off, shows extensive blistering on his feet from his old boots.
  • An Aesop: Monstrous evil like Chigurh has always existed, and thinking previous times were better or more moral is vanity. Despite all of this, there are always people who will carry the fire.
  • Arbitrary Gun Power: In Real Life, a cattle-gun would barely be able to dent a door-lock, much less blow it completely out of the door. It is subtly implied that Chigurh has made a few after-market additions to his captive-bolt gun to soup it up for his purposes.
  • Action Survivor: Llewelyn Moss. Initially. Not so much by the end.
  • 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.
  • Ambiguous Situation:
    • It's never made explicit whether Chigurh killed the accountant. It's never truly revealed if he killed Carla Jean either, but his checking his boots after he leaves the house implies that he did.
    • Does Bell's dream symbolize hope, or despair?
  • Anti-Climax:
    • The story seemingly builds towards a final showdown between Moss and Chigurh, but the cartel unceremoniously kills Moss offscreen.
    • The film then intentionally sets up a fight between Chigurh and Sheriff Bell instead, but Chigurh runs off and Bell never meets him.
  • Anti-Hero: Moss is probably a Nominal Hero, and Bell gradually goes into Knight in Sour Armor.
  • Anyone Can Die: Come the finale, the only major characters who haven't died are Ed Tom Bell and Chigurh.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: In the film, the deputy who arrests Chigurh at the beginning simply has him sit in a chair, then turns his back on him and makes a phone call. This allows Chigurh to bend forward, slip his cuffed hands under his feet so that his hands are in front of him, then choke the deputy to death. In reality, he would have immediately been placed in a holding cell.
  • Ax-Crazy: Anton Chigurh kills with no emotion, and has a "personal code" which mostly seems to function as an Insane Troll Logic excuse for killing people for no real reason.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Chigurh walks off quite badly injured because of a car accident but otherwise he's killed everyone he was hired to kill and then some and it doesn't seem like he will face repercussions. It’s even worse in the book, where he succeeds in getting the money and turns it over to the head of the Matacumbe Petroleum Group as his resume for future employment. That such things seem to happen more and more in the modern world is what drives Sheriff Bell over the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Badass Boast: "I'm going to make you my special project."
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: In a particularly disturbing example, Chigurh steals a random passerby's car by pulling him over in a police car, and manages to get him to stand still and complacent as he punches a hole into his forehead with a cattle bolt.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Anton Chigurh, the Juarez Cartel, and the Matacumbe Petroleum Group are all after the money and willing to kill for it (moreso the former two, mind). One could argue that Moss is a Villain Protagonist, too, since he is, after all, ultimately just a thief who robs a bunch of dead men (and endangers his family while he's at it), though he is easily the least reprehensible of the bunch.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: The middle manager of the Matacumbe Petroleum Group. He seems to be the one who arranged to purchase $2.4 million worth of black tar heroin from Pablo Acosta's Juarez Cartel, and is responsible for bringing both Chigurh and Wells into the plot that he kicked off to begin with. It's subtly implied that this may be his first rodeo and that he's in over his head, and the company's initial foray into the drug trade ultimately gets him killed.
  • 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—"
  • Bittersweet Ending: Heavily on the bitter. Not only is the deuteragonist murdered (off-screen), but then the villain is strongly implied to murder the hero's 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. On a slightly brighter note, we see that Chigurh is himself not immune to the impartiality of the universe. While he survives the film, he winds up wounded and without his money. The novel also implies that the police are still tracking down Chigurh, indicating that soon he will be caught.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Chigurh versus Moss. Chigurh is a relentless, cold-blooded killer. Moss is impulsive and prideful, getting innocent people like his wife in danger or killed, which ultimately leads to his own death.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Chigurh to the poor sap he carjacks. With a cattle gun, of all things.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Moss takes one from the site of the botched drug deal, setting the plot in motion.
  • Captain Obvious: After Chigurh gets T-boned, one of the kids on the bicycles states the obvious fact that Chigurh has a bone sticking out of his arm. In fact, he states it twice. Then again, he's probably more concerned that Chigurh's showing a disturbing lack of alarm about his injury.
  • Carnival of Killers: There's not only Chigurh, but Harrelson's character, and the random hitmen Chigurh kills.
  • The Cartel: Real-life drug kingpin Pablo Acosta's Juarez Cartel is one of the two parties involved in the drug deal gone wrong. Their hitmen eventually kill Moss.
  • Cassandra Truth: "It's full of money."
  • Celebrity Paradox: In the novel, Ed Tom Bell mentions the murder of a federal judge in San Antonio. He's referring to John Howland Wood, who was assassinated outside his townhouse by a contract killer named Charles Harrelson on May 29, 1979. Woody Harrelson (the son of Charles) appears in this film.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: Moss finds a dying man asking for water when he first reaches the shootout. He leaves without helping, but his conscience prickles him later at home, so he returns to the shootout scene to bring the man water... which is a mistake, and kickstarts the plot.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Carson is hired to kill Anton after Anton kills the managerials who'd come out with him to survey the deal gone bad, as well as the Mexicans at the motel, causing his boss to think he's gone rogue.
  • Counterfeit Cash: Downplayed: the money within the briefcase is certainly authentic, but its setup is misleading, as one layer below the top row of bundles of hundreds is a row with bundles of ones, including a bundle with a slot cut inside it to store a tracker.
  • Crapsack World: Sheriff Bell seems to believe that this is what the world is becoming, as does his friend in El Paso, who complains about teens coloring their hair and wearing nose rings. His old mentor later sets him straight. The world isn't becoming crapsack, it's always been that way.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Moss goes to some trouble setting up a proper hideout and trying to preempt his enemy's attacks. If it were not for his quick thinking and planning, he could have been killed very quickly.
  • Creator Thumbprint: For the film. Even though this movie shocked many audiences in 2007 by being considerably Darker and Edgier than most of the Coens' previous films, it still bears several of their signature elements: it's set in the recent past (the early 1980s), it's about a crime gone awry (the botched drug deal), and it features a seemingly emotionless Implacable Man with an embarrassing haircut (Chigurh).
  • Creepy Monotone: Chigurh speaks in one, although the slight intonation he does have at times carries almost palpable menace.
  • Darker and Edgier: ...than anything the Coen brothers had done previously, even their debut Blood Simple.
  • Dead Foot Leadfoot: Moss hitches a ride with a bystander, who is killed while Moss talks to him. 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Llewelyn Moss is (at least at first) a carefree one. His wife Carla Jean Moss is a fretful one. Ed Tom Bell is a wistful, morose one. Anton Chigurh is a cold and deadly one.
    Chigurh: What business is it of yours where I'm from... friendo?
  • Death Is Dramatic: Moss' death is a notable subversion in drama, as it happens off-screen.
  • Deconstruction: Moss 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, either to himself or those around him. Like Sheriff Bell, Moss is an archetype of an era that never existed when men never gave in to bad guys, the lines of black and white were clear, and the hero got to ride off into the sunset when it's over. He doesn't seem to realize that the world is and has always been a much darker place where men like that 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 (however nominal), and delivers both the opening and closing monologues. The story is about an old man not adapting to the reality of the brutal environment he works in.
  • Deep South: The setting, although the simple folk oblivious to the evil encroaching upon them evoke shades of Sweet Home Alabama.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Bell 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.)
  • Diabolus ex Nihilo: Played very, very straight with Anton Chigurh. He spends the first act of the film terrorizing townsfolk for reasons that are never really discussed. As the second act begins, he's instantly involved in the plot without a word of explanation. We don't even know who's employing him, and the people the audience thinks are employing him get blown away.
  • Determinator: All the men. But Chigurh trumps everyone else; nothing, not even potentially crippling injuries, can keep him down for long.
  • Dice Roll Death:
    • When Chigurh escapes the police station, he stops a driver on a highway to kill him and steal his car. The poor guy just happened to be the only one on the road.
    • Llewelyn flags down a motorist on an otherwise deserted street while running from Chigurh; the driver dies when Chigurh shoots at them. As above, the guy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Disapproving Look: Tommy Lee Jones' famous "Implied Facepalm" given to one of his deputies — in context, he has just read out a news story about a serial killing that was sadistic but also surreally comedic, and wryly remarks that the neighbours managed to overlook multiple graves being dug in the garden. Funny or not, he is taken aback when his deputy laughs at this line.
  • Dissonant Serenity: One of the most chilling aspects of Chigurh.
  • The Dreaded: Even other hardened killers are afraid of Chigurh, and with good reason.
  • Easter Egg: The credits include an attribution for "The One Right Tool," a reference to one of Chigurh's apparent reasons for turning on his employer. Right above it is a credit for "Serious Matters" (i.e., lawyerin' stuff).
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Chigurh.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Subverted. During his conversation with Carla Jean, Sheriff Bell mentions that modern cattle processors use an air gun for efficient killing. However, he is unable to realize that there's a connection to Chigurh's victims — who apparently died of bullet wounds with no bullets — and dismisses it as a stray thought.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Stephen Root's character is credited as "Man Who Hires Wells."
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: For all that he's an unstoppable monster who cannot be argued with, the old man at the gas station gets a small but powerful retort when he responds "I was just passing the time. If you don't want to accept that, I don't know what I can do for you." It seems almost to enrage Chigurh that someone would try to be friendly to someone else, even when they don't have to be, just for the sake of being nice.
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • Chigurh is willing to belittle and possibly kill a gas station attendant for trying to make small talk with him.
  • Evil Overlooker: Chigurh overlooks Llewelyn Moss on the DVD cover pictured above.
  • Expy: Chigurh is one of The Terminator. Word of God acknowledged this, and said that the ending where Chigurh has a violent bone break was to make him seem less like a machine.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Carla Jean, in the film.
      Carla Jean: The coin ain't got no say. It's just you.
    • Also discussed when Chigurh is about to kill Carson.
      Chigurh: You should admit your situation. There would be more dignity in it.
    • The accountant seems remarkably unfazed considering Chigurh has just killed the only other man in the room with him; he just calmly asks if he's going to die next. But, it's entirely possible he survives, as we never do see the results of the conversation.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Lampshaded; "Chigurh" is pronounced almost like "sugar." Then there's his sense of fashion...
  • Fresh Clue: In the film, while Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is investigating Llewelyn Moss' trailer, he notices condensation on a bottle of milk. The killer they're tracking had left the milk there less than an hour ago. Unfortunately, this doesn't really help them find the killer now.
    Ed Tom Bell: Now that's aggravatin'.
    Wendell: Sheriff?
    Bell: [points to a bottle of milk] Still sweatin'.
    Wendell: Whoa, Sheriff! We just missed him! We gotta circulate this! On radio!
    Bell: Alright. What do we circulate? "Lookin' for a man who has recently drunk milk?"
  • Freudian Trio: Moss is the Ego, Chigurh is the Id (representing darkness and violence), Bell the Superego (representing all that is good and rational). Going on the Good vs. Evil, with man in the middle interpretation, that is.
  • Genre Roulette: A specialty of The Coen Brothers. Each of the main characters' stories seems to inhabit its own genre: Chigurh is the killer in a slasher movie, Ed Tom Bell is in a Western, and Moss is in a gritty crime thriller.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: A major theme of the story, embodied by Sheriff Bell. However, the inverse is also depicted, as seen in Chigurh's frustration with Carla Jean refusing to play his coin flip game and pointing out his own agency.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Seeing as the story is set in rural Texas, there are plenty of these. Sheriff Bell, with his wistfulness for a better past that never was, is perhaps the best example.
  • Gorn:
    • The Coen brothers said themselves they wanted to make the "strangling" scene in the beginning the most violent strangling in the history of movies.
    • The unfortunate random passerby whose only crime was letting Moss into his pickup suffers one of the most gruesome deaths in the movie.
    • The death of the man who hires Wells.
    • Then there's the guy in the hotel whose arm gets obliterated by Chigurh's weapon.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Several; in one instance, a discretion cut moves to a later scene.
  • 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.

  • Handy Cuffs: Initially, Chigurh's hands were cuffed from behind, but while the cop is distracted on the phone he slips his feet between his hands so that the cuffs are in front of him, and then uses them to strangle the cop.
  • Happily Married: Ed Tom Bell and Loretta; Llewelyn and Carla Jean (though they snark at each other occasionally).
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Delivered to the sheriff by Ellis near the end of the film: you can't stop bad things. And you especially can't stop bad things when you've gotten too old and the world has changed from when you were younger and felt like you could stop them...even though you really couldn't back then either.
  • Hates Small Talk: The unfettered, purpose-driven Chigurh does not respond well to idle chit-chat (see Evil Is Petty).
  • Heads or Tails?: Anton Chigurh flips a coin to decide whether to kill a potential victim. Those that choose not to take the chance are killed anyway, because they refuse to submit to the Powers That Be. Fans actually debate over the reason why he does it. Carla Jean refuses to play, refusing to blame the coin or fate for what she believes is her inevitable death -- simply Chigurh.
  • The Hero Dies: Moss himself near the end.
  • Hero Killer: Anton Chigurh murders Carson Wells and Carla Jean.
  • Historical Domain Character: Though he doesn't appear, real-life Mexican drug kingpin Pablo Acosta is hinted to be one of the parties interested in recovering the stolen briefcase.
  • Hollywood Old: Uncle Ellis is supposed to be much older than Ed Tom Bell. Ellis' actor, Barry Corbin, is only about six years older than Ed's actor, Tommy Lee Jones.
  • Hollywood Silencer: With its enormous silencer, Chigurh's Remington 11-87 shotgun has a report no louder than that of a BB gun.
  • Hope Spot: It's nearing the end of the second act, Moss has ditched the transponder that was tracing him, and Carla has just told Sheriff Bell exactly where her husband is going to be, that though he was too proud to ask for himself, he needed help to take on the monsters he was facing. All seems set for a third-act confrontation… but this isn't that kind of movie. Bell finds him freshly Killed Offscreen, and everything goes to hell for everyone else.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Moss going back to give the dying man water (when he's likely already dead at that point), which is what sets the chase in motion. He even lampshades this when he says he's about to do something really stupid.
    • Moss going half the movie after acquiring the money before finding the transponder in the bag with the money. He never even decided to search the bag to count the money? Of course, this is done because otherwise the film would be much, much shorter. Related, the drug cartel's plan to keep tabs on the money by using the transponder in the first place. They couldn't have predicted that if things went south with the drug deal, that the person who ended up with the money would just ditch the bag like Moss did.
  • I Gave My Word: A dark example. When they briefly connect over the phone, Chigurh demands that Moss surrender himself and the money, or else he'll track down and murder his wife Carla Jean. Moss, predictably, refuses the ultimatum. At the end of the film, even though Moss is dead and Chigurh has already recovered the cash, he shows up at her house and makes good on his promise, using this exact justification.
  • If I Do Not Return:
    Llewelyn: If I don't come back, tell Mother I love her.
    Carla Jean: Your mother's dead.
    Llewelyn: Well, then I'll tell her myself.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Chigurh. He uses a pneumatic cattle bolt gun as a lock-breaker and once as an improvised weapon, and his primary firearm is a silenced Remington 11-87 shotgun with a pistol grip.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms:
    • In one scene, Chigurh uses a Glock 19 pistol. The movie takes place in 1980, but Glock pistols were not produced until 1983, and the 19 specifically didn't arrive until 1988.
    • His Remington 11-87 wouldn't be introduced until 1987.
    • At one point, Llewelyn acquires a Heckler & Koch SP89, which per its name wasn't produced until 1989. It's standing in for the full-auto MP5k mentioned by name in the book, which did exist by the time of the film's setting.
  • Inexplicable Cornered Escape: Near the film's end, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell arrives at a crime scene while Chigurh is still there, leading audiences to expect these characters to finally meet and have their showdown. But Chigurh somehow evades Sheriff Bell, with no explanation.
  • Info Drop: In the film, the date is revealed from the fact that a 1958 coin "has traveled 22 years to get here." Llewelyn's phone bill and Agnes' tombstone also bear the year.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Not verbally, but when Chigurh gets into a car collision that gives him a nasty open fracture (read: bone piercing skin), he asks one of two youths for his shirt as a (partial) disguise in exchange for a lot of money. Llewelyn does much the same thing earlier after getting wounded by Anton, asking three college-age kids for a coat in exchange for a lot of money.
  • The Ingenue: Carla Jean Moss, who is genuinely innocent of Llewellyn's antics.
  • Karma Houdini: Played with. Llewelyn's killers get away just as Bell arrives, but he managed to kill one and sent the rest running in fear. Later, Chigurh does kill Moss' wife, but she defies his nonsensical logic. Shortly after, a car slams into him, but he manages to get out (albeit seriously injured) and escape after bribing some kids nearby to keep quiet — many critics saw this as a clean getaway, but even with his medical knowledge, the injuries he received are not treatable by himself, and are very likely to put him out of commission, if not kill him or make it possible for the police to finally corner him.
  • Killed Offscreen: Happens to both Llewelyn and Carla Jean.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    Carla Jean: You don't have to do this.
    Chigurh: People always say the same thing.
    Carla Jean: What did they say?
    Chigurh: They say, "you don't have to do this."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Chigurh gets T-boned by a speeding car a few minutes after killing Carla Jean. While Chigurh's shown to have fixed his wounds before, the sort of fracture he receives is going to put him out of commission for a long while (if not permanently) without real medical aid.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: Used in the mariachi band scene for one of the few moments of overt comic relief in the film.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Taken from the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. While in the original poem the speaker is an old man who can no longer keep up with the lust (Eros) of the young, Sheriff Bell is an old man who can't keep up with the violence (Thanatos) of the young.
  • Love at First Sight: A rare, sweet moment when Carla Jean describes to Sheriff Bell how she met Moss. Moss simply walked into the store in which she worked, he said hello, and "that was all she wrote."
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money: 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.
  • Missed Him by That Much:
    • An amusing example occurs when Bell and Wendell are searching for Chigurh at Moss's trailer.
      Bell: Now that's aggravating.
      Wendell: Sheriff?
      Bell: (gestures to the milk bottle) Still sweating.
      Wendell: Whoa, Sheriff! We just missed him! We gotta circulate this! On radio!
      Bell: Alright. What we circulate? Looking for a man who has recently drunk milk?
    • Chigurh tracks Llewelyn via transponder to a motel room. While Chigurh is violently eliminating the Mexicans occupying the room, Llewelyn 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, Llewelyn has left the motel and hitched a ride out of town.
  • Missing Floor: In the scene where Wells gets hired at the "corporate office," he makes a comment about counting the floors to the building and there being one missing. This is in reference to the practice of skipping floor "13" in larger buildings because the number is considered unlucky. Of course, there still is a thirteenth floor in the building, it's only the label that's changed. It's a subtle indication that the people at the top of the organization are kidding themselves about what they can control.
  • Mood Whiplash: The entire scene with the mariachi band — they wake up Llewelyn from his tense firefight with Chigurh with their music, and stop when they see his blood-covered shirt.
  • Narrator: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. In the movie, he narrates the opening, and in his closing scenes, his dialogue becomes more and more like narration.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Or in Chigurh's case, murder is the ONLY solution.
  • 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.
  • New Old West: A very Western story, set in a very Western state, complete with sundowns and showdowns and gunfights.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: A darker example than most.
    • Ed Tom Bell is The Sheriff who is trying to stop Moss and Chigurh, but is too apathetic to be anything more than a Pinball Protagonist.
    • Anton Chigurh is a Professional Killer who's out to get the money from Moss and kill him for the trouble. Not that the trouble really makes any difference, as he's also a psycho who ends up killing most people he meets.
    • Llewelyn Moss is an opportunistic Jerkass who's in it for himself, but he's not psychotic like Chigurh.
  • Meaningful Appearance: Throughout the movie, cowboy boots are heavily focused on, whether it's through the frequent shots of Anton Chigurh's or having an entire scene devoted to Llewelyn buying them, with this fixation emphasizing the New Old West atmosphere of the film as a whole.
  • 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. Further, Chigurh is grievously wounded — in the novel, it's taken further, where the sheriffs will continue tracking him.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • The man with the chicken crates who stops to give Chigurh a jump. He gets a new hole in his head for his troubles.
    • Moss' act of mercy to bring the dying Mexican mobster water gets the cartels 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.
  • Nominal Hero: Moss. He is impulsive, prideful, and stubborn, to the point that his actions get a lot of innocent people killed as well as ensure his own doom. However, we are not supposed to see him as a hero so much as an opportunistic, foolish man in a situation far out of his depth. Character-wise, the only thing he really has going for him is that the men hunting for him (both Chigurh and the Mexican cartel) are a lot worse.
  • Noodle Incident: When Wells is introduced, his employer asks him when he last saw Chigurh, and Wells cites the exact date. We do later learn that Wells is indeed familiar with Chigurh... but we never learn what that earlier incident was about or (given what a psychopath Chigurh is) how Wells managed to survive.
  • 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.
  • Not Afraid of Hell: The nineteen-year-old murderer at the beginning fits this trope like a glove, going to the electric chair without complaint after murdering his girlfriend for no apparent reason:
    "Said he knew he was goin' to hell. Told it to me out of his own mouth. I don't know what to make of that. I surely don't. I thought I'd never seen a person like that and it got me to wonderin' if maybe he was some new kind. I watched them strap him into the seat and shut the door. He might've looked a bit nervous about it but that was about all. I really believe that he knew he was goin' to be in hell in fifteen minutes... He was not hard to talk to. Called me Sheriff. But I didn't know what to say to him. What do you say to a man that by his own admission has no soul?"
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • This movie manages to make the act of unscrewing a lightbulb frightening.
    • The build-up before the hotel shootout between Llewelyn and Chigurh.
    • Anton can even make a coin flip absolutely terrifying.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The one time Anton Chigurh meets his match is when the receptionist at the trailer park office refuses to tell him where Moss works. He repeats his demand in an attempt to intimidate her, but she doesn't cave.
  • Ominous Walk: Anton Chigurh uses this quite a bit, emphasizing his status as The Dreaded.
  • Parrot Exposition: Chigurh, especially so during the gas station scene:
    Owner: Will there be something else?
    Chigurh: I don't know, will there?
    Owner: Is something wrong?
    Chigurh: With what?
    Owner: With anything.
    Chigurh: Is that what you're asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?
    Owner: Will there be anything else?
    Chigurh: You already asked me that.
    Owner: Well, I need to see about closing now.
    Chigurh: See about closing?
    Owner: Yes, sir.
    Chigurh: What time do you close?
    Owner: Now. We close now.
    Chigurh: Now is not a time. What time do you close?
    Owner: Generally around dark. At dark.
    Chigurh: (Beat) You don't know what you're talking about, do you?
  • 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.
  • Pile Bunker: One of Chigurh's weapons of choice.
  • 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.
  • Police Are Useless: The cops are either shot or are too late — and even then, Ed Tom is either unwilling or unable to do more, such as help federals and DEA agents with investigating the bizarre murder scene. In the end, he decides he's had enough after Llewelyn is killed right before he manages to reach him.
  • 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. It helps that the book was originally written as a screenplay to begin with.
  • Professional Killer: Both Anton Chigurh and Carson Wells are assassins-for-hire and psychopathic, but Chigurh far outstrips Wells in the latter aspect.
  • Quieter Than Silence: Due to there being almost no music prior to the closing credits, the audience can hear a lot of environmental sounds like wind and footsteps when characters aren't talking or shooting.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The film uses an almost exclusively diegetic soundtrack in some places and silence in others, which adds to the Nothing Is Scarier theme of the film.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Is Chigurh really hiding in the hotel room where Moss was killed when Bell decides to check it, or does Bell, after noticing that the knob is missing, just imagine that Chigurh is there, ready to ambush him? At first sight, it would appear to be the former (Bell never actually meets Chigurh, so it would make no sense for him to "imagine" him exactly as he looked like), however, some elements point to the latter. (When Bell opens the door, it appears that behind it there would be no space for Chigurh to hide. Also, the air tank that Chigurh uses to carry around to pry doors open is nowhere to be seen, hinting that Chigurh may have already left.) According to those who have read it, not even the script provides a clear answer about that.
  • Rule of Three: Chigurh doesn't like getting blood on his boots, which we see three times: the first time in the hotel room when he shoots the Mexicans (while in sock feet). The second time, after he shoots Wells, he puts his feet up as he's on the phone with Llewelyn. The third time, as he's coming out of Carla Jean's mother's house, proof that he also killed Carla Jean.
  • Self Stitching: Chigurh blows up a car as a distraction so he can steal 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. After this, Chigurh finds it significantly harder to pursue Moss, and decides to try luring him by threatening his wife instead.
  • 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.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Chigurh uses the cattle gun to do this when he's not using it for... other things.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The climax of the film is starkly anticlimactic, causing many to debate whether it's a brilliant deconstruction or an insulting cop-out.
  • Shout-Out: Mike Zoss Pharmacy. "Mike Zoss" is the name of the Coen Brothers' production company, and it was the actual name of a pharmacy located in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
  • Shown Their Work: A very well done one that averts Guns Do Not Work That Way. In the scene where Moss goes back to give water to the dying man (pointless, as the man is already dead when he arrives), drug dealers find him and set their dog on him. This forces Moss to swim across the river to escape, with the pit bull swimming after him. When he reaches the other side, he knows he can't outrun the dog and doesn't even try. A thousand other action movies would have him simply whip out his gun and shoot the dog. Not here. Moss knows his gun is soaking wet and has to be cleared before he can attempt to fire it, and goes through the correct procedure to do so. Keep in mind that he does all of the following under extreme pressure, as the dog is getting out of the water and coming after him. He racks the slide, ejecting the cartridge in the chamber, which had the most exposure to the water. He ejects the magazine, allowing as much water as possible to drain from the gun while simultaneously shaking the magazine to get the water out of it. He then blows several times into the barrel and the magazine receiver to clear water from them. Water does not compress, so any droplets of water in the barrel could very well have the gun blowing up in his face. After all this, he reinserts the magazine, chambers a round, and shoots the dog just as it is leaping at him. Total elapsed time from starting to clear the gun to shooting the dog: ten seconds.
  • Silence Is Golden: The film's famously laconic, having several long periods of silence, and no score until the credits.
  • A Simple Plan: A very dark take. All Moss has to do is escape the cartel, send his wife away, and run long enough to ensure he's shaken them off his tail before he returns and gets to safety with his wife and the money. Right?
  • Sinister Southwest: A poacher in 1980s Southwest Texas finds the aftermath of a drug deal gone bloody in the desert and retrieves a briefcase full of money, leading to a peculiar hitman violently pursuing him across the state.
  • Slasher Smile: Chigurh sports one during the strangling scene; it's the most emotion he shows in the entire movie.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Characters do come from different viewpoints and yet in the end there is no one character that comes out on top.
  • The Sociopath: Anton Chigurh is such a potent one that he's a walking force of unstoppable evil.
  • Stealing from Thieves: Both the book and its movie adaptation invoke this trope to get Anton Chigurh chasing Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran who stumbles on a drug deal gone awry. He steals a suitcase full of money from the scene, only to get caught going back to the crime scene...
  • Staring Down Cthulhu: A mix of this and Wowing Cthulhu. The old trailer park lady manages to impress Chigurh by being very matter of fact, remaining completely nonplussed by his threatening attitude and refusing to fold under pressure.
  • Surprise Car Crash: One is used as part of its Anti-Climax ending. After Anton Chigurh kills Carla Jean and drives off before the police arrive, his car is struck down by another vehicle as he is leaving the neighborhood. Chigurh is as much a victim of circumstance as anyone else.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • Gunshots are not something you can easily shrug off, even if you are a trained veteran or an unstoppable killing machine. Both Llewelyn and Chigurh have to carefully treat bullet wounds they get, and the effects are felt for the rest of the film.
    • Llewelyn and Chigurh don't face off in an explosive showdown. Chigurh isn't the only person looking for Llewelyn's stolen money, and unsurprisingly, some other hitmen get the drop on Llewelyn instead, resulting in him being killed anticlimactically offscreen.
    • Chigurh's car crash in the finale shows that, for all he thinks of himself as an unstoppable entity, he's still just a man, and evading death in a gun fight without breaking a sweat doesn't mean you can't be killed by something as mundane as a driver on a sleepy suburban street running through a stop sign. The fact that he only survives through pure luck just drives it home further.
  • The Syndicate: The Matacumbe Petroleum Group, which is the company that owns the stolen money and hires both Anton Chigurh and Carson Wells to recover it.
  • Take a Third Option: Subverted. Carla refuses to call the coin Chigurh flips for her. He kills her anyway.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • In the opening scene, the cop turns his back to Chigurh, confidently saying the situation's under control. Not two seconds later, Chigurh brutally kills the cop using just his handcuffs, and escapes the precinct.
    • Moss phones Wells, only to find him dead. When Chigurh speaks with him, Moss confidently asserts he has found a way to beat him without involving his wife. Moss goes to a motel to prepare, and he ends up dead, not even by Chigurh himself, but the Mexican mobsters looking for the money.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The cop in the opening. Instead of putting Anton Chigurh in a jail cell after arresting him, he turns his back on him and sits at his desk to make a phone call, believing he has everything under control.
  • Trespassing to Talk: The protagonist's wife encountering Psycho for Hire Anton Chigurh in her house, having been waiting there for her to return.
  • Uncertain Doom: After Chigurh kills the man who hired Wells, the accountant with whom said man was speaking asks Chigurh what he'll do to him:
    Accountant: Are you going to shoot me?
    Chigurh: That depends: do you see me?
    [cut to new scene, with nothing to indicate whether Chigurh killed the accountant]
    • Similarly, the man who T-bones Chigurh's car as he leave Carla Jean's house. You can see the driver slumped in the seat, but whether the impact rendered him unconscious or dead isn't touched upon.
    • Chigurh himself; the aftermath of the accident leads to him being grievously injured with a bone sticking out of his leg, and all he can do is tourniquet it and limp away, as he does not want to receive medical treatment lest he be discovered. While he ends the movie alive and kicking, it's entirely possible he eventually succumbs to his injuries, or at the very least has become much easier to track down and apprehend.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: While on the way to meet up with Moss with her daughter, Carla's mother speaks to a polite, well-dressed Mexican man who helps her with her luggage, making small talk about where she's headed. Using this information, the gang is able to get the drop on Moss just as he thought he had a moment to breathe and plan, killing him. This, in turn, utterly seals Carla's fate, as Moss' plan to confront Chigurh and send her away with the money was the only conceivable way he might not have been able to kill her.
  • Useless Protagonist: Sheriff Bell, who is too apathetic to even properly pursue Chigurh, unlike the hotshot deputies and the out-of-state investigators trying to piece together what's going on. One of his major scenes is his deputy trying to encourage him to go with the investigators at the crime scenes — he doesn't care, saying it'll do no good. He doesn't bother with investigating further after he fails to stop Chigurh or the hitmen from killing Llewelyn.
  • Villainous Breakdown: A subtle example when Chigurh is badly wounded unexpectedly in a car accident. He looks shocked, and tells the boys at the scene he needs to sit and get his bearings for a while. Then he practically begs the boys for a shirt and help to make a sling for his broken arm, followed by giving them a generous tip for the help. All very out of character for Chigurh, showing us he's not as powerful as he thinks.
  • Villains Never Lie: Averted. The Juarez Cartel recovers their heroin from the deal gone wrong, but reports it missing to the other party involved.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Llewelyn, after inspecting his wounds past the Mexican border.
  • Weapon-Based Characterization:
    • Bell uses a revolver for a service pistol.
    • Chigurh carries a captive bolt pistol wherever he goes and also has a silenced shotgun to sneak up on targets with, demonstrating his resourcefulness and unpredictability.
    • Moss doesn't have a signature weapon, using whatever's at hand while on the run. He uses everything from his hunting rifle to a Sawed-Off Shotgun.
  • Wham Line: It doubles as a Badass Boast... or it would have, if not for the eventual subversion. Moss and Chigurh never actually meet again.
    Llewelyn Moss: Yeah, I'm going to bring you something, alright. I decided to make you a special project of mine. You ain't going have to come looking for me at all.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Chigurh's one is a bizarre mix of Bardem's natural Spanish, West Texan, Transylvanian, and something like Martian. He sounds like an alien trying to imitate a human accent, only to land in the Uncanny Valley.
  • When I Was Your Age...: One of the big tropes of the film, and one that's ultimately defied. Sheriff Bell feels that the world is more violent than when he was young, and doesn't want to face it. But as his mentor tells him in the end, the world's always been violent, and it's vanity on his part to think it's changing just 'cause he's getting older.
    • Fridge Logic sets in when you realize that Bell is probably a fan of Westerns. The average Western is oodles more violent than 1980s Texas. He'd probably get over himself if he just sat down and watched The Searchers.
  • 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.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The film is essentially a three-way game between Moss, Chigurh, and Bell.
    • Moss is clever enough to keep making plans after he realizes he's being hunted (and how). Notably, he's the only one of Chigurh's targets that the latter fails to trap/kill with minimal effort. Unfortunately, Moss' cleverness isn't quite enough, even if it's not Chigurh who nails him in the end.
    • When Anton Chigurh is outsmarted and injured by Moss outside the Eagle Motel, he realizes bushwhacking the Vietnam veteran isn't going to work. Anton immediately restructures his hunt to prioritize eliminating Moss' only way out: Wells and the man who hired him. He then threatens to kill his wife, in order to lure Moss to the nearest airport.
  • 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.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Chigurh does this to everybody to the point it's impossible to deal with him.
    Carson Wells: You can't make a deal with him. Even if you gave him the money, he'd still kill you just for troubling him. He's a peculiar man.

"Anywhere not in your pocket. Or it'll get mixed in with the others, and become just a coin... Which it is."


Video Example(s):


Anton Chigurh's Coin Toss

Anton Chigurh tosses a coin to decide whether a gas station attendant lives or dies and makes him call it, simply because of said attendant attempting small talk with him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / HeadsOrTails

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