It all started with Blood Simple back in 1984, when Joel and Ethan Coen showed the world that two moviemakers are better than one. Well, these two anyway. The movie landed three nominations and two wins at the Independent Spirit Awards two years later and the legacy began. In the years following, the Coen brothers, as they are affectionately referred to, would produce some of independent cinema’s most memorable scenes—and movies. After Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter abducted a child yet somehow landed laughs in 1987’s Raising Arizona, the brothers found themselves striking gold with a string of critical (and sometimes popular) hits, including Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, The Hudsucker Proxy and 1996’s Fargo.
Since landing a Best Writing Oscar statuette for their unique take on Midwestern values and awkward conversation in Fargo, Joel and Ethan Coen released movies unfortunately lesser received than their predecessors (the exceptions being the Oscar-nominated movies O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Man Who Wasn’t There—grand exceptions for sure). However, it is with this month’s No Country for Old Men that the brothers seem to have regained the audience anticipation they inspire in so many. The movie, starring Javier Bardem (MM‘s Fall 2007 cover story), Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin, is based on the hugely popular Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name—which means comparisons and disappointment are inevitable. But are they really? Early buzz says the movie is one of their best; a masterpiece that stays true to its original story but clearly exhibits that Coen touch.
“There is a good deal of humor in the [original] book, although you wouldn’t call it a humorous novel, exactly,” says Joel Coen. “It’s certainly very dark—and that was our defining characteristic. The book is also quite violent, quite bloody. So the movie is probably the most violent we’ve ever made. In that respect it reflects the novel, I hope, fairly accurately.” About a bag of stolen money, a killer (Bardem) and the cop (Jones) on his trail, No Country for Old Men lays a familiar path the Coens have, on screen and off, already portrayed so well: The often dark and adventurous path of the societal misfit.