Photo by Adam Nir on Unsplash

One has to wonder why the title of this Oscar-winning film exludes old women. The only figure who calls the psychopathic Black Angel of Death Anton Chigurh on his random method of deciding his victim’s fate–the coin toss–is Carla Jean Moss, in a flawless performance by a Scottish lass–Kelly Macdonald. A film centering on the actions of amorally-driven men, this one sensitive, vulnerable cinematic moment seems to give Javier Bardem’s EverReadyKiller pause. Chigurh seems so traumatized as he drives away from Moss’s home that he does not see the car that plows into his vehicle. Ever driven to survive, Chigurh lurches off robotically into his next Hell. 

This Coen film never fails to entertain; however, it does fail to enlighten. While I found this rugged noirish western with Josh Brolin’s ‘Nam tough, tortured character Llewelyn Moss compelling enough to keep my butt lodged, I came up feelin’ like a piece of rawhide–kinda stiff and worn. Where’s my cowboy hat, boots, my gun …? When that final scene between the emotionally-gutted Sheriff Bell, the seasoned Tommy Lee Jones, and his wife Loretta [Tess Harper] snaps to a blank screen, I feel about as empty and futile as I imagine Sheriff Bell to be. We are left with murky dreams of death and abandonment.

This film is profound in its depiction of human isolation, with no central character, no character who is not depicted as alone and struggling in their own personal Sartrean existential HELL. Not much in the way of human redemptive qualities to be found here. The action begins with an obviously psychotic killer stalking Llewelyn Moss for the 2 million he has robbed from dead drug smugglers and ends with this killer moving on, an evil force that cannot be annihilated, presumably the symbolism the film intends. But do we hapless humans need such chilling reminders of our wretched race? Say the Coens, maybe so.

The Coens do it again: no character development to speak of, and a dark, almost comically bleak atmosphere–with the woman providing the only compassionate whisper of hope. In Fargo the good-hearted, pregnant law-woman arrives too late to save anyone just as here Sheriff Bell arrives too late to save Llewelyn. Carla Jean provides the fragile soul of the film–if there is one–and she too dies, refusing to play a game of chance to save herself. She forces Chigurh to accept his responsibility in deciding to murder her. Her unexpected courageous insistence unsettles the RoboKiller. That one scene perhaps saves this film from the moral oblivion it would otherwise deserve.

We feel vaguely culpable in Carla Jean’s death as we witnessed her despair in discovering Llewelyn’s fate. Yet she remains a peripheral figure in this sinewy, bloody, emotionally flat-tempered Western nouveau noir: we do not feel more than a dull sense of shocked outrage when Chigurh casually steps onto Carla Jean’s porch and carefully inspects his shoes for her blood. No coin toss.

Review By Kate Orland Bere

Copyright 2008 Kate Orland Bere