That Moment In ‘No Country For Old Men’ When Anton Finds Moss
No Country For Old Men is a 2007 thriller where violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong and more than two million dollars in cash near the Rio Grande.
So the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, have pretty much made a career churning out morality tales in film, using quirky comedy and jarring violence, often in the same scene to spread the good word as it were. From Blood Simple to Fargo and everything in-between, their movies are filled with higher learning for those seeking a broader message in their cinematic experiences. And with their 2007 entry, No Country For Old Men, that message is frightfully clear: When you find two million dollars on the body of a dying man in the middle of a drug deal gone oh-so-horribly wrong in the Texas desert … leave it the heck alone.
A multiple award-winning film, No Country For Old Men is largely considered one of the greatest movies ever made and earned the directors Oscars for direction and Best Picture, along with Javier Bardem, the story’s lead villain, his own statue for his work. It’s a challenging experience, sometimes hard to watch, but is rich with symbolism and open for interpretation, giving each viewing plenty of rewards. You want some thinking with your shoot ’em ups? This is for you. Let’s take a look.
After a brief introduction to mysterious hitman and tragically coiffed Anton Chigurh (Bardem), we follow hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) out in the desert who stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone terribly wrong. Seriously. There’s bodies everywhere. He finds a barely-breathing survivor and a bag with two million dollars inside. Taking the money, he heads home but his conscience gets the better of him and in the night, heads back to give the dying man some water. Whoops. He gets spotted by others on the scene, but narrowly escapes. Sort of.
Hired to find him, Chigurh unleashes his worst, killing his own employer for goodness sake, then taking to the hunt of Moss, methodically chasing him down. Meanwhile, local Sheriff Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) works the case, discovering that evil does exist and it’s come to his little corner of the world.
THAT MOMENT IN
There’s a whole bunch of greatness in No Country For Old Men, from the atmospheric setting and direction to the aching score by Carter Burwell, to the performances all around. This is a remarkable movie and finding one great moment is almost a futile effort. However, I’ve always been moved by a terrifying sequence in the second half that showcases one of the film’s larger messages in a tense, desperate moment of humanity that might be one of the most nerve-wracking showdowns in all of cinema.
Now to be sure, most people remember the truly traumatizing opening moment when Chigurh enters a roadside mom and pop gas station and flips a coin to decide the fate of the owner. Right? I mean, come on, that’s iconic, the go-to No Country For Old Men moment. It’s a chilling bit of terror that quickly establishes the menace of the hitman but also his twisted sensibility. Borrowing from the Batman foe Two-Face, his use of fate to determine a person’s destiny is a nerve-shattering slip of chance that firmly illustrates the duality at play in the character. However, that given, let’s skip ahead and settle in on another moment when Chigurh does away with the coin and comes at his victim barrels blazing. It’s That Moment In No Country For Old Men.
Moss is on the run, money in hand, and we’ve learned that he’s a tough nut himself, clever and convinced that this bag of cash is the answer to it all. He’s already done some trickery that’s saved his skin and is luckily staying one step ahead of death, though we are beginning to wonder for how much longer. At a hotel in Eagle Pass, Texas, he discovers a tracking device hidden in the bills, realizing that’s how a group of Mexican drug sicarios have been keeping up with him, let alone Chigurh. He knows Anton has found him, and so he accepts that fact and prepares to ambush the hitman, hiding his room with the lights out and the boom end of his shotgun aimed at the door.
In the dark, he sees shadows cut into the thin stream of light beneath the door and readies himself to start blasting, but then the light goes out and suddenly, the bolt of the lock is shot out by Anton’s cattle gun (his signature weapon of choice), sending it straight into Moss’ gut, wounding him. In panic, Moss dives out the window, money bag in hand, and drops from the second floor into the quiet nighttime street with Chigurh close behind, firing with a silenced TEC-9 automatic pistol.
Bleeding and still armed, Moss stops a man in a pickup truck, telling him he won’t hurt him but to just drive away, though it’s too late. The driver is shot from behind as bullets begin raining in from the darkness. Nasty. Moss attempts to keep the truck moving, but steers it into a parked car and escapes across the street just a Chigurh emerges from the shadows, thinking his target is still in the truck. Big surprise though, Moss gets a shot off and tags the hitman, and it seems the tables turned, however … well, you’ll have to watch it on your own to know for sure.
I can’t tell you good this scene is, the way the Coen’s pace it and shoot it in such a way that it feels like nothing done before. Barely a word is spoken and there’s not a note of music, just these two men (and one unfortunate bystander) engaged in a deadly fight for life in the hollows of a sleepy town tucked in for the night. Chigurh is relentless and is almost never seen throughout, remaining a terrifying spectre in the sequence, one that becomes symbolic of the character himself, a looming, unstoppable figure of evil and death. He is but a shadow here, and the Coens rightfully keep him ghost-like, a reaper if you will, come to collect a man who is only suspending what is inevitable.
The moment runs for nearly eight minutes, an eternity in movieland, focused primarily on Moss’ flight and fight. This is important because while Moss is mostly seen as the hunted, he is not a man easily jarred. I mean, he stole two million dollars, right? He’s a skilled hunter himself, and backed into a corner, proves himself a heady target, like a honey badger on a very bad day. And it’s this shift, where we actually see him flip the balance, wounding Anton and putting him on the run, if only for a moment, that the Coen’s best humanize the chaos. Chigurh is not a machine nor demon, but a man, and for the first time, vulnerable and fallible. The Coen’s have never played by the rules, and we can be sure that there is nothing predictable about this turn, but for a moment we begin to feel a little different about the monster, that wherever we think it’s going to end up isn’t what we expect. That much is true.
No Country For Old Men is a rare movie, an elegant, beautifully tragic story with a harrowing undercurrent of morality that feels as purposeful and important now as it did ten years ago. It goes to places made to make us uncomfortable, not with its violence, but with its truths. And a truly chilling gunfight, one made more horrifying in its stillness than action, is one of the best ever filmed. It’s a great cinematic moment.