Cormac McCarthy is known as a reclusive and querulous person, giving only three interviews in his professional life, his work mirroring that personality. His best known work is "All The Pretty Horses", made into a so-so movie starring Matt Damon, set somewhere in south Texas, a setting that McCarthy has some affinity for. I've read THAT one too and absolutely loved it, along with the two following books which complete his "Cities of the Plains" trilogy.
Why do I bring this up? Well, it happens that I finished another book, "No Country For Old Men", by the same author right on the heels of the release of its big screen adaption by the equally quirky Cohen brothers ("O Brother Where Art Thou", "Fargo", "The Big Lebowski", "Miller's Crossing'). I believe it opens sometime around Thanksgiving. I've looked at the official website and seen the trailers and I believe that I've seen enough to have formed some kind of impression of the movie which I'll share after I review the book.
First of all, the book: I guarantee that anyone who picks up this book and starts reading from the first page will NOT put it down till after page 50 or so. It starts off fast and rarely slows down, absolutely unlike "The Road" which grinds on to it's inconclusive end (beautifully done, though).
The plot is simple. One fine morning in west Texas, a young Vietnam vet is antelope hunting when he comes upon the carnage of a drug deal gone bad. Both heroin and a suitcase of cash remain at the site, along with a number of bodies. The siren call of money that no none will miss (supposedly) and the opportunity to anonymously take the cursed cash is just too much for Llewelyn Moss, even though the troubling question remains in the back of his mind: "Who killed these dealers and why did they leave both drugs AND money on the scene?". But Moss' biggest mistake is to return to the remote scene a day later, and for this he sets in motion a deadly chase that fills out the rest of the story.
In the meantime Anton Chigurh (pronounced like"sugar" but with an "i" instead of a "u"), a psychopathic hit man, is hired out retrieve both drugs AND money. In fact, although the book does not spell it out, it just may be Chigurh himself who has killed these men in order to draw the original dealers back to the scene in order to kill them. But this is MY take, not the author's. Chigurh just happens to see Moss' truck parked at the head of the trail, although he doesn't see Moss, and thus begins a deadly game, the hunter (Moss) becoming the hunted. And as in any hunt it is the prey that is at the disadvantage till he sees the hunter, but by then the hunter has the advantage of position and opportunity. Chigurh is relentless, talented, and possessing his own brand of morality, one that makes him as God to all those he stalks. He even uses the original dealers' own hit men, hired to retrieve the drugs, to lead him to Moss. A truly scary man.
Woody Harrelson plays Carson Wells, a fixer hired by the upper level money people who financed the drug deal. His job is to find whoever has the cash, eliminate him and then retrieve the money. He seems to be competent but he is no match for Chigurh who manipulates him like a pawn in a chess game and ultimately is eliminated by Chigurh who then goes to Wells' employers and proposes that HE retrieve the cash. The employers have no choice but to agree, but Chigurh then returns and kills THEM! The angel of death.
Meanwhile the local cop, Sheriff Bell, is alerted to the carnage in the desert, another in a long line of new depredations that confound his view of how society ought to be, and how far it has fallen. Bell, a WWII vet who has his own troubled past that he is dealing with and much smarter than anyone thinks, becomes a narrating voice throughout the book, almost as if he is writing a post script after the story has been completed yet hinting at the eventual conclusion before the reader turns the last page. Bell's goal is to find Llewelyn and to try to protect him from those who pursue him.
The story has a foreboding feel to it and even though the reader may sense where it is leading it is still impossible to turn away from the pages. But, as with many of McCormac's stories, there is always the twist of the unexpected, a development that causes the reader to want to turn back to the beginning and to look again at things with new eyes. Is the story really about Moss, or is it about Bell? Is it a morality play on the essence of good and evil or is it just an observation on the world in general. McCormac's vision seems to be Godless, and if there IS a God He is just a spectator to human drama and uninterested in intervening.
As was "The Road", this book will doubtless be shunned by anyone reading on this site because of its dark tone, and it prompts me to wonder why it is that I seem to be different in this respect. Perhaps it is because I came through our common experience almost undamaged, in fact improved, by the experience...who can tell?
Now, the movie: Having only seen the trailers I already have to quibble with the movie. Llewelyn Moss is played by Josh Brolin, not a bad choice in itself, but he seems to be a bit too old for the role. In fact, in the book Moss' wife is supposed to be 19 years old and that would make Brolin a comical figure as Moss, 39 years old and marrying a 19 year old girl. But since his wife plays only a small part in the story I guess it could be overlooked.
Tommy Lee Jones plays Sheriff Bell, almost type cast as a good 'ol boy, a role he has played before. No complaint here. He adds a bit of "folksy" charm to any role he plays.
But my biggest misgiving is the role of Anton Chigurh. The author makes it plain that he is a dark skinned, blue eyed assassin, but the choice of Javier Bardam is a bit of a discontinuity. Judging from the trailer he plays the role as a freakish wild eyed psychopath, but although he IS psychopathis, Anton Chigurh is definitely NOT wild eyed, he is cool, calm, calculating and able to blend in to any scene without anyone being able to describe his appearance. For whatever reason the Cohen brothers choose to give him a bizarre page boy type hair cut and makes him appear to be almost unhinged. You know the type, the guy whose appearance and demeanor prompts you to cross the street when you see him coming? Hardly the type to blend in unless at a Halloween party.
Despite my misgivings I'll probably go to see this one, bloody as it may be, and I'll try to watch without any expectations, and when I do I'll report back here.