It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The movie opens with the flat, confiding voice of Tommy Lee Jones. He describes a teenage killer he once sent to the chair. The boy had killed his 14-year-old girlfriend. The papers described it as a crime of passion, "but he tolt me there weren't nothin' passionate about it. Said he'd been fixin' to kill someone for as long as he could remember. Said if I let him out of there, he'd kill somebody again. Said he was goin' to hell. Reckoned he'd be there in about 15 minutes."
These words sounded verbatim to me from No Country for Old Men, the novel by Cormac McCarthy, but I find they are not quite. And their impact has been improved upon in the delivery. When I get the DVD of this film, I will listen to that stretch of narration several times; Jones delivers it with a vocal precision and contained emotion that is extraordinary, and it sets up the entire film, which regards a completely evil man with wonderment, as if astonished that that such a merciless creature could exist.
The man is named Anton Chigurh. No, I don't know how his last name is pronounced. Like many of the words McCarthy uses, particularly in his masterpiece Suttree, I think it is employed like an architectural detail: The point is not how it sounds or what it means, but the brushstroke it adds to the sentence. Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a tall, slouching man with lank, black hair and a terrifying smile, who travels through Texas carrying a tank of compressed air and killing people with a cattle stungun. It propels a cylinder into their heads and whips it back again.
Chigurh is one strand in the twisted plot. Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff played by Jones, is another. The third major player is Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), a poor man who lives with his wife in a house trailer, and one day, while hunting, comes across a drug deal gone wrong in the desert. Vehicles range in a circle like an old wagon train. Almost everyone on the scene is dead. They even shot the dog. In the back of one pickup are neatly stacked bags of drugs. Llewelyn realizes one thing is missing: the money. He finds it in a briefcase next to a man who made it as far as a shade tree before dying.