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Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men

Richard Foreman/Courtesy of Miramax Films

Review in a Hurry:  Hard ugly men say and do hard ugly things in the Coen brothers' chilling take on Cormac McCarthy's novel about justice, America and a big sack of cash. Part western, part slasher flick and totally one of the best movies of the year.

The Bigger Picture:  It sounds like a simple caper: A good ol' boy hunter (Josh Brolin) stumbles onto a mess of bodies—and a satchel of cash—in the Texas desert and, of course, grabs the money and runs. He quickly finds himself way over his head, pursued by an old-timey sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones), Mexican drug runners, Woody Harrelson in a big hat and a slow-walking, unstoppable assassin with a pageboy haircut (Javier Bardem).

Thing is, there's nothing simple about Joel and Ethan Coen's ultraviolent, wise and funny meditation on, like, nature, morality and man. Every shot's loaded with tension and beauty, every line is a great line, every performance is just exactly right. Brolin's regular joe on the run gives the plot plenty of action-picture momentum, while Jones takes his sweet time as a heartbreakingly pure lawman, feeling that he's "outmatched" in this desolate space on the border.

But the movie's soul belongs to Bardem, the most frightening movie villain since Hannibal Lecter, or even old-school Michael Myers. Is he simply a well-armed psychopath out to get his two million dollars back, or is he a ghost, or an angel, or the very force of nature taken human form for the convenience of story and metaphor?

Whatever—you better run.

As in any Coen Brothers movie, the script is ripe with delicious lines that won't sink in until the way home...or the third viewing. Difference is that this, their finest film yet, has some "hard bark" on it, as Jones' sheriff might say. The desert is as cold and bleak as McCarthy's view of humanity, so the laughs may not dare even leave your throat.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  The Big Lebowski this ain't. Coen fans expecting big chuckles should call up The Dude instead, as this is one violent ride with no time for whimsy or in-jokes. The quaint old men you might find in Fargo or Raising Arizona aren't here for comic relief—they're standing in the very shadow of evil, outmatched.