No Country for Old Men

May be the best of the year.

A time when drug deals come with multiple murders and amoral operatives is no time for aging 1980 West Texas sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) to stay on the job, especially since Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is murderously determined to retrieve drug dollars from amateur but crafty Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin).

No Country for Old Men, adapted from Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel by the Coen brothers, is a classic explanation of a title, where the plot is perfectly in synch with the titular expectations. In fact, this film is one of the best modern westerns ever and even at this late time of the year, closing in on Oscar, one of the best of the year.

Because the Coens are notorious for ingeniously wringing out humor in dark films (think the washed out Fargo, the pregnant cop, the Minnesota accents), no one will be surprised at the laughs emerging from the clipped, minimalist speech of Texans who wouldn't acknowledge Mr. Death if he were handing them a calling card. For example, when Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson) is asked how dangerous Anton is, he replies, "Compared to what? The bubonic plague?"

The Coens catch the slow, indifferent drawls and irritation at strangers who don't get it. But in most cases, Anton Chigurh is in no mood to indulge these rubes and disposes of them as one might shoo flies from a hot border cafe.(

The pace is slow enough for Jones to do his best acting ever, with Brolin a stunning Nick Nolte imitation. But the slow, assured menace of Bardam dominates No Country, like the arid, deathly plains of New Mexico (for Arizona) cinematographer Roger Deakins nails perfectly as metaphor. Add No Country to this year's other excellent westerns, 3:10 to Yuma and Assassination of Jesse James, and you have as satisfactory a genre year as ever since Unforgiven.

Much will be made of the Hitchcock touches and inscrutable ending. Granted, but they are just a signal that the Coens are back again borrowing and puzzling with a film that stands proudly beside Arizona and Fargo.